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Cigar Review: Protocol Official Misconduct Corona Gorda

26 Aug 2019

The Cubariqueño Cigar Company introduced itself to the cigar world in a way that was both humble and, by virtue of its association with a longstanding veteran, firmly grounded. In 2015, the small outfit came on the scene with a nondescript table at Erik Espinosa’s booth at the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans.

Back then, Cubariqueño founders Juan Cancel and Bill Ives, both police officers, were not entertaining delusions of grandeur. They set a goal to open 20 accounts and produced at one factory (Espinosa’s La Zona in Estelí). Before the show was over, they had sold their inventory.

Flash forward to today and Cubariqueño is still very much a small, boutique outfit. But, in an indication of their continued success, they’ve just launched a new size of their fourth blend—Official Misconduct.

The blend sports an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Estelí and Jalapa. Originally, it was only available in a Toro (6 x 50). As of this summer, though, you can also find it in a Corona Gorda format (5.6 x 46). The retail price is $9.95 and the cigar is packaged in boxes of 10.

Beneath the Corona Gorda’s two silver bands and silver foot ribbon is a Colorado-hued, dry wrapper with more than a couple sizable veins. There are no soft spots; the feel is moderately firm throughout. The well-executed cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw. At the foot, the pre-light notes are reminiscent of molasses.

Once lit, the initial flavor is chalky, papery, and dry with considerable black pepper spice. The effortless draw seems to contribute to the airy, papery sensation. Fortunately, after half an inch inch, the profile assumes a more interesting stance with the additions of cocoa, black coffee, and peanut. The next transition, which occurs within the first third, is even more welcome: a replacement of dry, airy notes with a creamy richness and more pronounced peanut. From here, there are few changes before the Corona Gorda is complete.

Construction is solid from light to nub. The burn line is straight, the draw clear, the smoke production voluminous, and the white ash holds well off the foot. None of this should be surprising. Cubariqueño might be new, but La Zona is an experienced, well-respected operation.

I’m looking forward to trying additional blends and sizes from Cubariqueño. And while I like the Protocol Official Misconduct Corona Gorda, the way this cigar starts—which was consistent across the several samples I smoked for this review—gives me some pause. That’s ultimately why I’m awarding it a score not greater than three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Espinosa Alpha Dawg Short Churchill

14 Aug 2019

Even without the name and the black-and-white sketch of cigar maker Erik Espinosa on the box top, this cigar would stand out. The Habano Rosado wrapper is nearly flawless and has a nut-like pre-light aroma.

The profile begins with pepper, befitting the Nicaraguan binder and filler. Performance is excellent: solid burn, tight ash, lots of smoke, and a good draw. It does, however, burn a little fast.

There are quite a few changes along the way. The pepper recedes a bit after the start, giving way to woodsy notes and spice. Other flavors include a honey sweetness, espresso, and leather. Strength is generally in the upper range of medium, tending to increase somewhat as the cigar burns down.

I’ve smoked a box of the Short Churchills and found them very consistent from cigar to cigar.

Alpha Dawg comes in three sizes, all packaged in boxes of 10. The Short Churchills (6 x 48) list for $8.75 each. The two other sizes are a Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46) and Robusto (5 x 50).

The cigar began life as an event-only stick, chosen by attendees from three blends presented a few years ago at an event celebrating cigars from Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. According to Espinosa, demand pushed it into regular production.

I’ve gone on record before about silly cigar names. And I’d have to put Alpha Dawg into that category, though I probably should add an asterisk.

I can’t say I know Espinosa, but I have met and talked with him several times, and he’s an interesting, larger-than-life sort of guy. It’s that personality that makes me believe the name and presentation overall comes with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The Alpha Dawg is an interesting, satisfying smoke, especially for those who like Nicaraguan tobacco and appreciate subtlety. I recommend the cigar and give it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Charter Oak Maduro Toro

12 Aug 2019

Last month I reviewed the Charter Oak CT Shade, Nicholas Melillo’s attempt at an affordably priced cigar for any time of day. I found it to have a pleasant, straightforward, mild- to medium-bodied profile of cream, white pepper, peanut, and café au lait. The “unchanging, unpretentious” taste, however, tends to overstay its welcome, especially in the large Grande (6 x 60) format. So I settled on an OK score of three stogies out of five and decided I needed to try some of the other sizes.

Before I do that, though, today I am reviewing the Maduro version of Charter Oak. Like the CT Shade, it honors Melillo’s home state of Connecticut. It is named for The Charter Oak, an “unusually large white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut… from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856,” reads a Wikipedia article. “According to tradition, Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the hollow of the tree to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak became a symbol of American independence and is commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter.”

The Foundation Cigar Co. website provides more color: “Charter Oak cigars hail from the same fertile valley in Connecticut that native son and master blender… Nick Melillo was born and raised. [They] feature some of the most prized and sought-after Cuban-seed leaf varieties from the exquisite Estelí and Jalapa regions of Nicaragua.”

The filler may be Nicaraguan, and the binder Habano, but the centerpiece of the blend—the wrapper—is a dark, mottled Connecticut Broadleaf (Charter Oak CT Shade, as you might have guessed, has a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper; it swaps the Habano binder for Sumatra). Five Maduro sizes are available, all made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua: Toro (6 x 52), Grande (6 x 60), Lonsdale (6.25 x 46), Petit Corona (4.25 x 42), and Rothschild (4.25 x 50).

The Toro retails for $5.50, which makes it wonderfully affordable. From looks alone, though, you wouldn’t guess this is a value-oriented smoke. The closed foot, seamless wrapper, and handsome cap suggest a higher price point. One exception is the band; while attractive in color and design, it has no raised lettering and a minimalist approach.

After toasting the closed foot and establishing an even burn, pre-light notes of cocoa powder transition to a taste of earth, leather, black coffee, and warm tobacco. The draw is open, and there’s ample black pepper spice on the finish. The texture is gritty and dry. There’s a cherry-like sweetness on the retrohale.

That sweetness comes and goes as the Toro winds its way down, but the other core flavors remain consistent from light to nub. All the while the construction does just fine. The burn isn’t perfect, but it also doesn’t require any touch-ups to stay even. The ash holds pretty well. The draw is smooth. And the smoke production is solid.

Whereas I grew tried of the CT Shade Grande due to the combined effect of an unwavering, simplistic taste and large, thick format, the Maduro Toro is more interesting and more appropriately sized. For the money, it’s a rather nice value. I’d absolutely keep a stash of these on hand for the golf course or a barbecue. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score 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: Aganorsa Leaf JFR Lunatic Habano Short Robusto

7 Aug 2019

I was recently smoking a JFR Lunatic Short Robusto and trying to explain the name to someone not familiar with it. Turns out it’s not an easy task; not much about it makes sense.

JFR stands for “Just for Retailers” (brick-and-mortar only). But while that was once true, the line is now sold online and in catalogs. “Lunatic” refers to the absurdly large ring gauge sizes (two 60s, one 70, and one 80), but that doesn’t apply to the more traditionally proportioned Short Robusto.

Even “Short Robusto” is a misnomer as the cigar is 4.75 inches long with a ring gauge of 52, a size far more often designated as just “robusto.” (The Aganorsa site says it is 4.25 inches, but my trusty tape measure confirms it is a half inch longer.) Of course, none of that really matters when it comes to whether or not the cigar is worth smoking.

Weighing in favorably on that side is a value-oriented sub $6 price. Made by Aganorsa Leaf (which, up until a spring 2018 re-brand, had been known as Casa Fernandez) at their TABSA factory in Estelí, the cigar features a Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler wrapped in a rustic Ecuadorian habano leaf.

The cigar starts out with a burst of toast and sweetness as you burn through the closed foot. It soon settles into a medium- to full-bodied profile with notes of roast cashews, honey, light oak, cream, and a slightly metallic note on the finish.

While there isn’t much variation after the first few minutes, the consistent notes still comprise a pleasant combination of flavors with plenty of sweetness until the final third. Construction is also impressive with an easy draw and sturdy ash, although one of my three specimens required multiple touch-ups to correct the burn.

It isn’t hard to see why this cigar has garnered favorable reviews, including being featured at number eight on Cigar Aficionado‘s Top 25 list for 2018. The simple fact is, good cigars that cost closer to a Lincoln than a Hamilton are hard to find, even if it isn’t the best offering in the Aganorsa Leaf/Casa Fernandez portfolio.

While value is always appreciated, we don’t factor price into our full reviews. (Everyone’s sensitivity to price is personal, so we let you factor that in yourself.) Still, solid construction and pleasant flavors earn the Aganorsa Leaf JFR Lunatic Habano Short Robusto a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Crowned Heads La Imperiosa Magicos

24 Jul 2019

It may sound obvious, but it’s a big decision. If you’re a brand owner that doesn’t own a cigar factory, you have two choices: (1) partner with one factory/cigar maker to produce your cigars exclusively, or (2) produce different cigars at different factories. There are clear pros and cons to each strategy.

In the former, you have a partner who, if times get tough, you can work with knowing your businesses rise and fall together. In the later, you get the variety of experience and diversification to make particular blends at a factory where each style excels.

For the first few years after Crowned Heads was launched in 2011 by CAO veterans John Huber and Mike Conder, the company partnered exclusively with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s Tabacalera La Alianza S.A., and seemed content doing so. That changed with the introduction of Las Cavaleras in 2014, made at the Garcia Family’s My Father Cigars S.A. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The cigar proved so popular it became a regular offering in 2015, in part due to demand from cigar retailers. La Imperiosa features the same components: a dark oscuro Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan filler and binder.

The sizes are different from Las Cavaleras, with a Dukes (5.5 x 54), Corona Gorda (5.75 x 46), Double Robusto (6.4 x 50), and Magicos (4.5 x 52), the latter being the subject of today’s review. Suggested retail is $9 to $10 per cigar, though you may be able to pick up a five-pack for $20 to $25 if you search around online.

The short robusto starts out with a burst of spice but quickly settles into a more medium- to full-bodied combination of roast nuts, black pepper, bread, and charred oak. Particularly interesting is a peanut butter flavor that coats the roof of your mouth.

The finish is long with oak and coffee. The cigar’s construction is flawless, with a dark, oily wrapper (framed nicely by a teal band), an even burn, and a sturdy, light gray ash.

My Father Cigars S.A. makes a lot of cigars that use oscuro Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. This is a classic Garcia combination. A natural question is how La Imperiosa measures up to others. Personally, I slightly prefer the Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu and My Father Le Bijou 1922, but that is more a matter of personal taste than a measure of quality.

La Imperiosa is well-made, rich, and classically Garcia and Nicaraguan. (This makes it very distinct from the previous Crowned Heads blends made by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s Tabacalera La Alianza.) That impressive combination earns Crowned Heads La Imperiosa Magicos a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Robusto

22 Jul 2019

The phrase “Jacob’s ladder” has many meanings. At least two novels, two films, nearly a dozen places around the world, a plant, and at least a dozen songs borrow the name. The genesis of the name (pun intended) is “a ladder leading to heaven that was featured in a dream the biblical patriarch Jacob had during his flight from his brother Esau in the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. “The significance of the dream has been debated, but most interpretations agree that it identified Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the people chosen by God, as understood in Abrahamic religions.”

Along with Rose of Sharon, Austin-based Southern Draw Cigars introduced the Jacobs Ladder (sans apostrophe, for some reason) blend in 2016. At first it was a limited release, but it grew into full production in 2017.

Like all Southern Draw creations, Jacobs Ladder is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. It sports a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, an Ecuadorian binder, and “double Ligero” filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions of Nicaragua. Much like Jacob’s biblical ladder, the Southern Draw website calls this line “bold, but approachable.”

There are three standard vitolas: Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). Three additional sizes (including a Lancero and two perfectos) are classified as “limited.”

I sampled three Jacobs Ladder Robustos for this review. This cigar features a dark, moderately oily wrapper with few veins and tight seams. The foot is closed, and the cap is a bit rough around the edges. Dual bands of dark blue (purple?) and gold decorate the top half, while a cedar sleeve covers the bottom. The pre-light notes are rich and reminiscent of cocoa powder and baking spices.

Once underway, I find a powerful yet well-balanced profile with notes ranging from dark chocolate and roasted peanut to black cherry and leather. On the palate, Jacobs Ladder finishes in a rich flourish of sweetness and black pepper. The texture is thick and syrupy.

Things settle down considerably towards the midway point in terms of body. The flavor seems creamier and less intense here. But the strength—and by that I mean the nicotine kick—seems to grow with every puff. With other cigars, 19 times out of 20 I don’t notice the nicotine at all. But the Jacobs Ladder Robusto brings it in a heavy dose that’s impossible to ignore.

Throughout, the combustion properties are solid, including a smooth draw, straight burn line, generous smoke production, and a white ash that holds firmly off the foot.

The Jacobs Ladder Robusto retails for $9-10. But I wouldn’t suggest it to the faint of heart at any price. If you’re a seasoned cigar veteran with a full stomach and a nicotine itch that needs to be scratched, though, look no further.

This bold, imposing cigar 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: Black Label Trading Company Morphine 2019 Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2019

Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) creator James Brown calls the 2019 iteration of Morphine “one of the best yet.” Each year, this blend—which was introduced in 2014 as a fuller-bodied addition to the BLTC portfolio—has a different vintage. What sets this one apart, according to Brown, are “rich and earthy” flavors “with bold spice on the retro.”

Morphine sports a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. It is handmade at BLTC’s factory in Estelí, which goes by the name Fabrica Oveja Negra.

There are three Morphine vitolas available in 2019: Lancero (7 x 38, $11.50, 12-count boxes), Short Robusto (4.5 x 50, $10.50, 20-count boxes), and box-pressed Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46, $10.50, 18-count boxes). Only 450 boxes of each were produced. I’ll save you some math: That amounts to a total run of 5,400 Lanceros, 9,000 Short Robustos, and 8,100 Corona Gordas.

The Lanceros are likely to be the most sought-after, and not just because they comprise the stingiest production; I imagine BLTC’s core audience is comprised of seasoned cigar veterans who appreciate small-batch, boutique cigar operations. If I know these folks—and I’d like to think I do—I can safely say they like their lanceros.

After taking a handful of Corona Gordas for a test drive, I am happy to report this is not a Morphine vitola to overlook. Beneath its macabre, Silence of the Lambs-esque dual bands of black and white is a firm, dark, moderately oily cigar with thin veins. At the foot, I find heavy, rich pre-light notes of molasses and dry wood. The pigtail cap clips easily to reveal a slightly stiff cold draw that imparts some spice on the lips.

Once lit, the introductory flavor is intense and concentrated. Expect to find a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and warm tobacco. In the background linger subtler, sweeter notes, including raisin and cocoa. The texture is thick and chalky. And, yes, as Brown claims, the retro-hale is bursting with palate-coating spice.

Typically, at this point in a review, I write about how the intensity of a full-bodied cigar pulls back and the taste becomes a little softer and creamier. Not here. There are few changes along the way. And, frankly, that’s OK with me. I appreciate this cigar’s textures and tastes. And the small, compact format helps ensure the flavor doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In terms of construction, the burn line tends to meander a bit, and several touch-ups are needed keep things running smoothly. Aside from that, I have no complaints. The smoke production is good, the ash holds firm, and the draw is moderate.

The 2019 Morphine Corona Gorda is unapologetically San Andrés. If you like that rich, earthy flavor—and I do—you’ll not want to miss this. It’s a great example of how to leverage many of the best qualities of Nicaraguan tobacco with a Mexican wrapper. Kudos to Brown and the folks at BLTC. This powerful treat is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys