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Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Killer Bee Connecticut

24 Jun 2019

Nearly four years ago, James Brown, creator of Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC), 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.”

The three original BLK WKS cigars were 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. Green Hornet, a stronger follow-up to the Killer Bee that’s distinguished by its Candela closed foot, was added a year later in 2016. All of these were offered in addition to BLTC’s core lines, which include Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, Salvation, and Last Rites.

More recently, in November 2018, BLTC announced an offshoot to the Killer Bee: Killer Bee Connecticut. This cigar “was blended with the original Killer Bee, so I’m very excited to finally have it released as an addition to the Killer Bee line and the BLK WKS portfolio,” said Brown in a press release. “With similar profiles to the Killer Bee, it may not be what you expect from a typical Connecticut cigar. The Connecticut wrapper gives an added creaminess and changes up the spice components quite a bit.”

The Killer Bee Connecticut recipe calls for Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, a Nicaraguan Habano binder, and a Connecticut wrapper with an Ecuador maduro “swirl cap.” It is offered in a single size (4.5 x 46, $10).

I smoked three Killer Bee Connecticuts for this review. Put simply—and not unlike the original Killer Bee—this gorgeous cigar admirably showcases the craftsmanship at Fabrica Oveja Negra. The bee-like stripes help the cigar stand out on any retailer shelf, and the metallic, honey-combed band of gray, black, and gold adds a nice touch as well. At the foot, the pre-light notes include classic Connecticut aromas of sweet hay, sawdust, and almond.

Whereas the Killer Bee is bold, powerful, and full-bodied with flavors of burnt caramel, black pepper, char, and syrup, the Killer Bee Connecticut is—predictably—more dialed-back. That said, it never falls into the trap of tasting like “just another Connecticut.” It boasts considerable pepper spice from the outset, along with well-balanced notes of oak, butter, and a bit of cinnamon.

Into the midway point and beyond, the spice falls off but the core flavors (save for pepper) remain the same. And that’s just fine in my book. The taste is highly enjoyable and complex, and the small, compact format means it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All the while construction is impeccable. The white ash holds well off the foot, the draw is smooth, the smoke production is generous, and the burn line requires zero touch-ups.

For my palate, the original Killer Bee is, well, a killer. It’s a highly concentrated flavor-bomb that demands to be smoked with a full stomach. The Killer Bee Connecticut, though, is a more balanced, nuanced smoke that’s suitable for almost any occasion. For that, I’m awarding it a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino

18 Jun 2019

If you’re here for a cigar with a dominant flavor of cedar, let me stop you before you go any further. This cigar line from Southern Draw celebrates Cedrus Libani, the Lebanese Cedar that’s often used to make cigar boxes. As far as I can tell, it is not intended to suggest the cigar has a cedar-forward taste. That’s good because—spoiler alert—it doesn’t.

Southern Draw introduced Cedrus last summer as the Austin-based company’s fifth regular-production line. In addition to honoring a tree varietal, the single-vitola blend also commemorates Phil and Shelly Hogan, who Southern Draw founder Robert Holt cites for their valuable support of his company. (Further complicating matters—or, if you prefer, tying it all together—is the fact that there is a form of the Western Red Cedar called “Hogan.”)

Cedrus, like all Southern Draw creations, is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. Its recipe includes a “late harvest” Besuki wrapper from the Jember region of Java, Indonesia. “Our family was blessed to source this rarely available, top-quality wrapper, with its rich brown color, distinct ‘green chili’ spice flavors, and herbal aromas that are attributed from being expertly air-cured followed by a multi-stage fermentation process,” said Holt in a press release. The binder is a Habano 2000 leaf from Nicaragua (grown under cloth), and the filler tobaccos are also Nicaraguan.

Last week, Southern Draw announced new box-pressed vitolas to join the Belicoso Fino (5.5 x 52). They include a Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). For 2019, 50,000 of each have been produced. Per-cigar prices range from $11.99 to $12.99. Southern Draw’s website hints at a Lancero and a Perfecto due out in 2020.

To date, the only size I’ve had a chance to acquire and sample is the original Belicoso Fino. I smoked three for this review. The box-pressed Cedrus Belicoso Fino is adorned with dual bands of green and gold, the second of which proclaims, “Soli Deo Gloria” (Latin for “Glory to God Alone”). Beneath is a dark, smooth, moderately oily wrapper leaf with thin veins. The sharply pointed cap clips easily to reveal a cold draw with just a bit of resistance.

At the foot, the pre-light notes are mouth-watering and pungent. You won’t have to try hard to notice a musty, earthy aroma with hints of nuttiness and chocolate.

Once lit, the initial profile is dry, earthy, and spicy. Individual flavors include oak, black pepper, cinnamon, earth, and clove. Then, after about an inch, the spice recedes just as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind an earthier taste devoid of cinnamon and replacing black pepper with white pepper.

The next transition is characterized by somewhat of a return to spice—though this time it isn’t black pepper but a medley of baking spices. Still, the overall profile is medium-bodied with a slightly chalky texture. The cigar remains in this state until the finale. Throughout, the physical properties are admirable, including a straight burn. The gray ash has a tendency to fall off prematurely, however.

Robert Holt calls Cedrus Southern Draw’s “most distinguished-tasting cigar.” I will admit this is my first experience with the brand, so I cannot speak to how it compares with his other lines. That said, I like this cigar enough to commit to trying the others in short order, and I will report back as I am able. For now, the Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino 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: Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask Robusto

12 Jun 2019


Last year Diesel debuted Whiskey Row, an A.J. Fernandez-made cigar featuring tobaccos aged in bourbon barrels from the Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. This month the follow-up collaboration arrived: Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask.

Like the original, the binder has been aged in Rabbit Hole’s barrels. But this time the casks has been used to age Pedro Ximenez Sherry before being filled with bourbon for a brief finishing period to make Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey. (Look for an upcoming Cigar Spirits article on this bourbon.) Unlike the Mexican San Andrés binder used in last year’s Whiskey Row, this cigar uses an Arapiraca barrel-aged binder from Central Brazil’s Alagoas region.

Like the original Diesel Whiskey Row, the filler is all Nicaraguan. (No word on whether it uses the same three-region combination.) The most visible change from last year’s line is a dark, oily Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper.

Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask comes in three sizes priced from $8.49 to $9.49: the Robusto (5 x 52) I smoked, plus a Toro (6 x 50) and a Gigante (6 x 58). Construction on the three pre-release samples I smoked was outstanding with an even burn, sturdy ash, and flawless draw that had just the right amount of resistance.

Pre-light you can pick up the hints of the barrel-aged tobacco with deep char notes with caramel and dried fruit. Once lit, the charred notes remain and combine with classic earthy Nicaraguan flavors, light pepper, and lots of chocolate and espresso.

As the cigar progresses, there isn’t a whole lot of variation, though some dried fruit notes come and go. The cigar has a finish that lingers on the roof of the mouth, and has a notably cool smoke that seems to temper those full flavors just slightly.

It’s impressive to think how far the Diesel brand has come along: from a catalog house brand (albeit a notably well-reviewed one) to a full line of cigars now with multiple blends in regular distribution. (Read the original Diesel Whiskey Row review for more on that history.) Without a doubt, handing the reins to the prolific and talented A.J. Fernandez is a large factor in that success.

There’s little reason to believe Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask won’t be another success for the blend. Priced fairly, well-constructed, and with deep, rich flavors the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask Robusto earns an impressive rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto

10 Jun 2019

La Palina has accomplished a lot in the decade since the brand was launched, or technically re-launched. (The original La Palina was introduced in 1896, and later developed by the vision of William S. Paley, who went on to found CBS.)

We attended the La Palina launch event in 2010 when the company introduced its first cigar, made at Graycliff in the Bahamas. If you had told us then where this brand would be now, we would have been both impressed and surprised.

Since 2010, La Palina has debuted a steady stream of new cigars, many of them highly rated here at One of the latest, introduced in 2016, is La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro. Like its sister blend that was launched the same year, La Palina Nicaragua Connecticut, it—along with so many other brands—aims to capitalize on the industry’s growing fascination with all things Nicaragua.

La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro is crafted at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. with an Ecuadorian oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is available in three vitolas, each packaged in boxes of 20: Gordo (6 x 58, $9.50), Toro (6 x 50, $8.50), and Robusto (5 x 52, $7.99).

The Robusto is a beautiful-looking cigar with handsome double bands of white, cream, black, and gold. Beneath is a dark, slightly reddish wrapper leaf with abundant oils and a few prominent veins. The cap is a bit sloppy, though it clips easily enough to reveal an effortless cold draw with some faint sweetness on the lips. The foot exhibits a relatively loose packing of filler tobaccos and dry pre-light notes of oak and syrup.

The Nicaragua Oscuro has the look of a full-bodied cigar, and the introductory profile lives up to that expectation. Espresso, leather, almond, and black pepper comprise the core, while notes of sweet cherry and cream add balance. As the cigar progresses into the midway point, the flavor remains consistent (save for the black pepper tasting more like white pepper and the cream becoming more prominent), but the body settles into the medium spectrum. The mouthfeel is thick and chalky.

From there, I find few changes; the final third is more of the same, which is fine by me. I like the profile from the get-go, and the only major shift (from the first third to the second) is an improvement: less body, but a more balanced taste. Fortunately, the physical properties only add to my enjoyment. The burn line is straight, the white ash holds well off the foot, the smoke production is voluminous, and the draw is smooth.

A.J. Fernandez makes many fine cigars, and La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto is no exception, especially when you consider the sub-$10 price point. In my book, this fine cigar is worthy of a box consideration and a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cohiba Connecticut Robusto

5 Jun 2019

General Cigar labels its latest Cohiba a “super-premium release” and continues to expand the range of the U.S.-only line. The Cohiba Connecticut would seem to be aimed at luring high-end smokers attracted to cigars such as those produced by Davidoff, Ashton, and God of Fire.

It is a legitimate contender.

The first impression comes from the wrapper, a nearly flawless Connecticut-seed leaf grown in cloudy Ecuador. The pre-light aroma is sweet and floral.

The binder is Mexican San Andrés, which, fortunately for my taste, seemed to have little impact on the cigar’s overall flavor. The filler comes from Brazil (Mata Fina), the Dominican Republic (Piloto Cubano and Olor), and Nicaragua (Jalapa).

At first, there is a touch of the typical Connecticut grassy flavor. It is barely a hint, though, and quickly subsides as other tastes come to the fore.

There’s some spice and a deep, bread-like taste to the thick smoke. Other flavors I noted along the way were a citrus tang, an almost syrupy sweetness, and leather.

Construction and performance were first-rate in each of those I smoked. Strength was in the medium range.

Cohiba Connecticut comes in four sizes, including two different Robustos. The tubo Crystal Robusto (5 x 50) lists at $20.99. The Robustos (5.5 x 50) I smoked have an MSRP of $19.99. The other two vitolas are a Toro (6.25 x 52, $21.99) and a Gigante (6 x 60, $22.99).

Some cigar enthusiasts disdain the non-Cuban Cohiba, viewing it as an overpriced, crass attempt to exploit Cuba’s incredibly successful cigar line originally produced for Fidel Castro. Unlike other Cuban brand names used in the U.S., Cohiba is a post-revolution cigar. Legal wrangling over the trademark between Cuba and General Cigar, initiated more than 20 years ago, continues.

While relatively few of us light up $20 cigars on a regular basis, if you occasionally reach for a high-end smoke I’d suggest you add Cohiba Connecticut to your list of possibilities. It’s a worthy smoke, and one that I rate four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione OneOff Corona Gorda

28 May 2019

Eighteen years ago, Andrea Molinari—proprietor of Casa del Habano in Milan, Italty—introduced his own cigar line called OneOff. He originally wanted the brand to be made in Cuba but was turned away. So he ended up entrusting his venture to one of the world’s most prominent tobacco families: the Plasencias.

At first, OneOff was only available to a select few accounts in Europe and Asia. Many surely thought the line—adorned simply with an orange band sporting a peace symbol—was truly a one-off limited production run. But OneOff found its way to the U.S. market in 2002, earning a cult status reputation and making quite an impact on a young Dion Giolito, who credits OneOff as the inspiration for Illusione.

Flash forward to 2009. Molinari is out of the OneOff picture, and so are the Plasencias. The cigars now go by “OneOff Doble Capa” and are produced and distributed by Cuban Crafters as a catalog brand. Then Giolito bought OneOff from Cuban Crafters in 2017. And here we are.

Today, OneOff is made for Illusione at the Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) factory in Nicaragua using 100% Nicaraguan tobacco from Aganorsa. The eight OneOff vitolas are each packaged in boxes of ten and retail for $11.95 to $17.95: Cartuchos (3.9 x 52), Corona (5.5 x 42), Robusto (4.9 x 50), Cañonazo (6.1 x 52), Pyramides (6.1 x 52), Julieta (7 x 47), and Corona Gorda (5.4 x 46). (The eighth size is called +53 Super Robusto and retails for $30; the tobacco origins are undisclosed.)

The Corona Gorda is a firm, oily cigar with a triple-cap and a few prominent veins. The cross-section of tobaccos at the foot shows a snug fit of generously packed filler leaves. The pre-light aroma is smoky (I’m tempted to cite mesquite) and the cold draw is on the stiff side.

Once an even light is established, the introductory profile that emerges is dry, bready, woody, and slightly spicy. Individual flavors include cedar, cinnamon, cereals, and some black pepper. The cedar and pepper fade pretty quickly; they are replaced with sweet cream and roasted cashew. This combination is both complex and delicious.

At around the midway point, the cream and cashew fade, and the cinnamon and cedar pick up where they left off. The spice intensifies in the final third, and the Corona Gorda becomes hot and—at times—harsh.

In terms of combustion characteristics, the burn is set-it-and-forget-it straight and the smoke production is average. The draw—while a bit tight for my liking at the outset—opens nicely after a quarter of an inch. The ash does not hold well off the foot, however.

OneOff is a tale of two cigars: the interesting, complex, balanced cigar in the first half; the hot, sometimes harsh cigar in the second. This dichotomy played out across all three samples I smoked for this review. And that’s ultimately why I can’t award the Illusione OneOff Corona Gorda anything higher than three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: The Wise Man Maduro Churchill

20 May 2019

It’s a distant memory, but I can recall a few things about the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show. The suffocating heat outside on The Strip. The first convention where a sense of FDA foreboding permeated seemingly every conversation. The sheer volume of exhibiting cigar makers, which seemed notably more numerous than previous years. And the buzz surrounding new cigars coming to market from former Drew Estate tobacco men Steve Saka and Nicholas Melillo.

You may recall Melillo, who formerly served as executive vice president of international operations at Drew Estate, announced the formation of the Foundation Cigar Co. shortly before the 2015 convention. Leading up to the convention, we knew his first solo outfit would be headquartered in his native Connecticut, and the first blend would be made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco. But so much remained a mystery.

The mystery was eventually unveiled as El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—which is a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” There are five vitolas: Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Corona Gorda, and Chuchill.

Two years later, in 2017, Melillo introduced the predictable second act to El Güegüense: The Wise Man Maduro. I am sure many were relieved to see the challenging El Güegüense (gwe-gwen-se) name dropped in favor of the English translation. Many more were excited to see how Melillo would adapt the successful El Güegüense blend into a maduro format.

The Wise Man Maduro sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos from the three primary growing regions: Condega, Estelí, and Jalapa. “I was looking to create a line extension with a whole different level of complexity and the San Andrés wrapper brings just that,” writes Melillo at the Foundation Cigar Co. website. “I have always been drawn to San Andrés, Mexico, and have been buying tobacco there since 2003. The wrapper is one of my favorites, not to mention one of the oldest seed varieties in the world, which predates even Cuban seed. The combination of this unique capa and Nicaraguan fillers makes for an amazingly flavorful smoke.”

There are five sizes available: Torpedo (6.25 x 52), Toro Huaco (6 x 56), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), and Churchill (7 x 48). The latter vitola—of which I smoked three for this review—sports a dry, toothy wrapper with thin veins. The band is very similar to the one found on El Güegüense, except the background color is maroon, not blue. At the foot, I find a mouth-watering pre-light aroma of cocoa and a cross-section of loosely packed tobaccos.

Despite the relative sponginess of the Churchill, the cold draw is actually moderately resistant. It opens nicely, though, once the cigar is lit and underway. The flavors include a complex plethora of baking spices, cocoa powder, espresso, and white pepper. The finish is dry cedar with a hint of cayenne heat. The resting smoke is a delightful blend of cinnamon and cashew.

Critics of San Andrés cigars often cite the tobacco’s tendencies toward “dirt” or “grit.” I know what they mean. That said, the way the wrapper leaf is fermented and blended with other tobaccos impacts the flavor it imparts. Here, Melillo did a fantastic job getting a rich earthiness from the wrapper while avoiding some of the typical San Andrés pitfalls.

Kudos are also in order to TABSA, the factory that crafts this well-made blend. All three of my samples exhibited good combustion qualities. Expect a sturdy gray ash, a straight burn, and average smoke production.

I paid $11 apiece for my Churchills—not an unfair price for a cigar of this complexity and quality. All told, my first experience with The Wise Man Maduro is worthy of an exemplary rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys