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Cigar Review: Aquitaine Knuckle Dragger

20 Nov 2017

Baby, it’s cold outside. For those of us not lucky enough to be living in a tropical climate in the winter, November—with its diminishing humidity and plummeting temperatures—is a stark reminder that this time of year is not the most accommodating for cigars. It isn’t terribly accommodating for cigar smokers, either. Thanks to government-imposed smoking bans, thousands of decent cigar enthusiasts will be thrust into the cold and out of private restaurants and bars that otherwise would have welcomed them with open arms.

One strategy for beating the winter-time blues is to limit your exposure to the elements by smoking shorter cigars. And if you’re looking to pack a mighty punch into a stout format, one excellent option is the Aquitaine Knuckle Dragger from RoMa Craft Tobac.

By now, RoMa Craft—brought to you by Mike Rosales (the “Ro”) and Skip Martin (the “Ma)—needs no introduction. After all, the operation may be small with limited production, but it’s undoubtedly making some of the world’s best cigars. The lineup includes CroMagnon, Intemperance (EC XVIII and BA XXI), and Aquitaine.

Aquitaine has the same filler blend (Estelí, Condega, and Pueblo Nuevo) and binder (Cameroon) as CroMagnon. But instead of featuring a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, Aquitaine has an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero wrapper. “This eighth and ninth priming Ligero leaf is thick, oily, and has amazing texture,” according to RoMa.

The Knuckle Dragger (4 x 52) retails for $6.25 and sports a wrapper that’s rustic, toothy, and oily. It is on the firm side and the pre-light notes remind me of dried apricot and cereals. The nicely executed cap, even when only barely pierced, conceals a smooth cold draw.

Right out of the gate, the flavor is bold with a rich, leathery texture on the palate. Introductory notes include leather, white pepper spice, espresso bean, and a bit of a cayenne heat in the back of the throat. A wonderful sweetness, likely a product of the Cameroon binder, adds a touch of cream to balance the blend.

Towards the midway point, the body ramps up from medium- to full-bodied to full-blown full. There’s a hearty nicotine kick. Notes of roasted cashew join the profile. From there, the flavor remains largely unchanged to the nub, save for an increase in spice and heat down the home stretch. All the while, construction is exquisite. Expect a solid ash, even burn, and good smoke production.

RoMa Craft has built its well-deserved reputation on quality, consistency, and great bang for the buck. The Aquitaine Knuckle Dragger lives up to these virtuous characteristics, and it does so in a winter-friendly format that delivers a ton of flavor in a relatively short time span. In my book, it’s worthy of a rating of 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: Macanudo Inspirado Black Robusto

15 Nov 2017

Macanudo is one of the most popular cigars in America, and the mild Macanudo Cafe and Gold blends (both of which feature the classic green and white band) are most closely identified with the brand. That popularity shapes the brand’s identity.

The upside is the reputation makes Macanudo green label cigars a go-to for mild cigar smokers who know they will get exactly what they want. The commercial challenge for has been expanding that successful reputation beyond mild offerings, especially as tastes for many cigar smokers have tended toward fuller-bodied profiles.

Macanudo’s Inspirado line first debuted in 2004 for international markets; it wasn’t available in the U.S. until 2014. Keep in mind, unlike in the U.S.—where General Cigar/STG also owns the rights to the Partagas, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, and other trademarks that originated in Cuba—the Cuban government still controls those marks overseas, meaning Macanudo is far and away the best known brand owned by STG outside the United States. This may account for why Macnudo Inspirado was pushed elsewhere.

Since its U.S. debut in 2014, Inspirado seems to have been building an identity as a sub-brand of Macanudo, with a focus on more flavor than Macanudo has traditionally been identified with. In addition to the Orange-banded original Inspirado, the Black and White lines were added to the portfolio earlier this year. (Previously, there had been an online/catalog-only Inspirado Black line, which featured Orange lettering, but that blend is different from the full release Macanudo Black that debuted this year.)

Inspirado Black uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and Estelí filler surrounded by a dark, nearly jet black Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Rather than priming and curing the wrapper tobacco in the traditional manner, which is leaf by leaf, Inspirado uses stalk-cured Broadleaf tobacco.

In stalk-curing, which has become more common for Connecticut Habano wrapper, the entire plant is cut and the entire plant, leaves, and stalk cure together. The process takes longer but can produce a more flavorful wrapper leaf as the nutrients from the stalk continue to migrate to the leaves during curing.

Inspirado Black comes in three sizes: Churchill, Toro, and Robusto. I smoked three Robustos (4.9 x 48), which sell for $7 each. After pre-light notes featuring raisins, I lit the Robusto to find a unique combination of flavors with mole (unsweetened chocolate, smoked paprika, red pepper), bread, cream, dried fruit, and oak char. Those flavors, which combine for full-bodied flavors, coat the palate with an almost velvet-like mouthfeel.

The cigar produces thick, aromatic smoke. Except for the strength building slightly, there’s little variation from start to finish, except for a slight sourness that’s evident towards the final third. It’s a complex cigar that’s far from traditional Connecticut Broadleaf flavors.

One of the samples I smoked had a notably soft spot, but showed no ill-effects, as all three had excellent combustion qualities including a sturdy, dense light gray ash, even burn, and firm, not overly tight, draw.

Since the introduction of the Macanudo Cru Royale and Macanudo 1968, the view of Macanudo as a purely mild cigar line has been outdated, even as the reputation has persisted. The Inspirado line in general, and the Inspirado Black in particular, should fully put the mild myth to rest.

There is a lot to like about the Inspirado Black. With unique, complex, full-bodied flavors and excellent construction, the Macanudo Inspirado Black Robusto earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Undercrown Sun Grown Corona

6 Nov 2017

Back in July, Drew Estate issued a flurry of pre-IPCPR Trade Show announcements, the foremost being the introduction of the new Undercrown Sun Grown line. Sun Grown makes three in the Undercrown portfolio, joining the Ecuadorian Connecticut-wrapped Undercrown Shade (released in 2015) and the original San Andrés-wrapped Undercrown line (released in 2010), which is now sometimes referred to as Undercrown Maduro.

Sun Grown sports an Ecuadorian Sumatra sun-grown wrapper around a Connecticut stalk-cut sun-grown Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. The filler includes one leaf of “extensively aged Ligero from the Nueva Segovia region along the border of Honduras… selected to enhance the strength of the blend.”

“Challenging [Drew Estate Master Blender] Willy Herrera and the Undercrown blending team to create the new expression after finally securing sun-grown tobacco is extremely exciting, as we have tried to secure this Sumatra Ecuador tobacco for over 15 years,” said Jonathan Drew in a press release. “The new Sun Grown continues the legacy of ‘blended on the factory floor.’”

Sun Grown comes in six traditional sizes—Corona (5.6 x 46), Robusto (5 x 54), Gran Toro (6 x 52), Belicoso (6 x 52), Gordito (6 x 60), and Corona Doble (7 x 54)—plus Drew Estate’s familiar, sought-after Flying Pig vitola. Suggested retail prices range from $8.20 to $12.72.

I smoked three Coronas for this review. This cigar has a smooth, velvety, milk chocolate-colored wrapper with moderate oils and only the thinnest veins. The well-executed cap and tight seams exude quality and careful attention to detail. The cold draw is nearly effortless, and the gentle pre-light notes at the foot remind me of sweet hay, earth, and green raisin.

After establishing an even light, the introductory profile is a medium-bodied combination of roasted nuts, salt, dried fruit, creamy butter, tangy mesquite, and warm tobacco spice. The resting smoke is aromatic and sweet with roasted nuts as the primary note.

After the first inch, a slightly sour, papery, somewhat stale taste creeps in that tends to overshadow the other flavors. The spice is now a bit subdued and reminiscent of a combination of white pepper and cinnamon. This is how the Corona remains until the final third, which sees an acceleration of spice.

As for the combustion properties, I’ve come to expect near perfection from La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. The Corona doesn’t necessarily disappoint in this department—the draw is smooth and the smoke production is good—but the ash is temperamental and the burn, while self-correcting, tends to be slightly uneven.

When you add it all up, the Undercrown Sun Grown is by no means a bad cigar. There are plenty of interesting flavors, and smoking slowly tends to keep the stale note in the background.That said, it does not live up to the Undercrown pedigree; Undercrown Maduro and Undercrown Shade are both superior blends with more complex tastes.

I am interested to see how some of the other Sun Grown vitolas perform. To be fair, the Corona is the only size I’ve tried to date. For now, though, in my book, I rate it three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Reviews: Fable Fourth Prime Mersenne

30 Oct 2017

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been a huge fan of RoMa Craft Tobac for years. In my estimation, the entire portfolio is well-made, expertly blended, and relatively easy on the wallet. What’s not to like? So when I came across a cache of smokes from Fable Cigars at my local tobacconist, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a few.

For the uninitiated, Fable comes from the RoMa Craft’s home factory in Estelí, Nicaragua: Fabrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A. The brand debuted in early 2016 and is made for owners Sean Kremenetski and Mitul Shah.

Fourth Prime is Fable’s inaugural release. (There is only one other line listed on Fable’s website, Fourth Prime Limited Production; but, again, the brand has only been around for less than two years, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a small portfolio if that portfolio is really solid.) The line “is the story of the number seven and the significance it holds in our world,” according to the Fable website.

Fourth Prime is described as “medium to full strength” with “full flavor” and “full aroma.” It is available in four sizes: Sapta (6.25 x 54), Mi (5.75 x 46), Doc (4.25 x 52), and Mersenne (5.25 x 56). The recipe includes a dark Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Mersenne (5.25 x 56) is named for Marin Mersenne, a French monk who lived in the 17th century and is known for his work on prime numbers. It is adorned by a simple white band with a curious black emblem. On the Fable website, you’ll find the following: “The triangle logo is a minimalist representation of the fourth prime number—seven. Seven lines that form the letter P when turned sideways.”

The cigar’s exterior leaf is toothy and textured yet devoid of anything but the slimmest of veins. It is rectangle-pressed and fairly firm to the touch. Despite that firmness, though, the flattened cap clips easily to reveal an ultra-smooth cold draw.

Once lit, the introductory profile is full-bodied, full-strength, and spice-forward with a meaty texture. Individual flavors include a sweet gassiness, espresso, cayenne heat, and cedar.

After an inch, the spiciness tones down considerably, but the flavor remains full. The retreat in spice makes way for some new notes, including caramel and dark chocolate. At this point, the core is a bold combination of earth, black coffee, dry oak, and burnt marshmallow.

As expected, the finale is characterized by a reprise of spice and strength from the outset, plus a grittiness that reminds me of San Andrés tobacco.

The combustion properties are impeccable, as one would expect from NicaSueño. The burn line is perfect, the white ash holds well off the foot, the draw is super-clear, and the smoke production is ridiculously voluminous.

To put it plainly, the Fable Fourth Prime Mersenne is an intense cigar that’s loaded with flavor. I paid about $10 per single, which seems entirely reasonable given the quality. I suggest you give it a try. In my book, it earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha

18 Oct 2017

Cuban cigarmaker Felix Mesa created El Galan Cigars in 2010 and makes the half dozen El Galan blends in his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. In an interview last year, he explained why he left Cuba and started his own cigar company:

“I am Cuban, 41 years old, son and grandson of the third generation of a humble peasant family from the former province of Las Villas, today called Spiritus Santis in the Cabaiguan town where I was born and grew up in a field called the Purial, which is a tobacco region in Cuba. I left Cuba with a dream which could not realize there for the reasons that many know; there you can’t do registration marks, much less sell tobacco and to be able to pay tribute to a family who deserved it as many others to achieve experiences and wisdom in this beautiful tobacco industry.”

El Galan’s Dona Nieves cigar is named after Mesa’s grandmother, who worked in Cuban tobacco fields until she was 86 years old (and clearly remains a strong influence on Mesa). Even the three vitolas—including the box-pressed Negra Macha (5.5 x 54)—are all nicknames for Mesa’s grandma.

The cigar uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It isn’t easy to find, but you can locate it online for around $6.

The cigar features intense pre-light aromas, including barnyard with light fruit. It is densely packed with a light box press and a light brown, slightly splotchy wrapper.

Once lit, the Dona Nieves produces a complex array of flavors that include burnt toast, shortbread, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper, and cafe-au-lait. It’s full-flavored and medium-bodied. Construction is excellent with a sturdy ash despite a slightly wobbly burn line.

If I’m being honest, I picked up these cigars on a complete whim just because a Nicaraguan-heavy, Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar made by a Cuban sounds a lot like some of the other cigars I’ve liked over the years (e.g., early Don Pepin and A.J. Fernandez).

I’m glad I did. This is a flavorful, complex, well-made, balanced smoke at a very fair price. If you’re looking for something new to try, check out El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha (since you probably haven’t smoked it yet). It was a pleasant surprise for me and earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Black Petit Lancero

16 Oct 2017

In 2010, a Minneapolis-area cigar shop called Tobacco Grove introduced a store-exclusive Tatuaje Black in a Petit Lancero (6 x 38) format. Only 200 boxes of 25 were made for a total production run of 5,000. They sold out almost instantly.

Later, Pete Johnson turned the vitola into a regular release. The only difference between the two cigars—aside from the production numbers, of course—is the Tobacco Grove Petit Lancero had a pigtail cap and a closed foot.

For those unfamiliar with Tatuaje Black, the line was launched in 2007 in a Corona Gorda size that came in ceramic jars. Known as Johnson’s personal blend, some consider this cigar to be one of the best ever made.

But all cigars change over time due to uncontrollable variables. And Don José “Pepin” Garcia-made cigars, including Tatuaje Black, have also changed slightly due to the lawsuit and falling out between Pepin and his former partner Eduardo Fernandez, owner of Aganorsa S.A. and partner in El Rey de Los Habanos. (Blends had to be tweaked when access to Aganorsa tobacco stopped.)

That hasn’t stopped Tatuaje, or Pepin (who makes Tatuaje for Johnson), from putting out excellent cigars. Nor has it prevented the Tatuaje Black from being reissued and expanded. Of all the different Tatuaje formats over the years, though, the Petit Lancero is one of the best.

This wonderful cigar is a mottled, slightly reddish Nicaraguan puro that’s not without its fair share of veins. It is moderately spongy in firmness. The wrinkled, textured wrapper leaf is incredibly oily; it’s almost velvety. The cold draw is smooth. At the foot, pre-light notes include cocoa and molasses.

At the outset, the spice-forward flavor is medium-bodied with well-balanced notes of oak, cinnamon, chocolate, and white pepper. The texture is thick and leathery. After half an inch, the spice recedes a notch to make way for a little sweet cream. The retrohale is occasionally characterized by a flourish of roasted nuts.

At the midway point, the Petit Lancero calms considerably in terms of both body and spice. Then, in the final third, there is a reprise of strength and spice, along with peanut, dark chocolate, and dry cedar. All the while, the construction is excellent. Expect a straight burn line, easy draw, solid white ash, and good smoke production.

It’s hardly a surprise to me that I really like this Tatuaje Black. I love the size—it’s enough to be satisfying without overstaying its welcome, and the narrow ring gauge helps to concentrate the flavors—plus most Johnson/Pepin creations tend to resonate well on my palate (I’m not the only one). This classic-tasting, medium-bodied cigar scores very well due to its ample complexity and harmonious balance. I rate it four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Rey del Mundo Maduro Robusto

15 Oct 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

El Rey del Mundo is a famous Cuban brand with an often overlooked non-Cuban counterpart. This non-Cuban version was made at the Villazon factory in Honduras for many years, but apparently is now made at STG/General Cigar’s Danlí factory. Made with a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper and Honduran binder and filler, the five-inch Robusto has a thick ring gauge of 54. The cigar features black coffee, roasted nuts, sour bread, and cedar. Not overly complex but well-constructed, it’s a good value at around $6.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys