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Cigar Review: Eastern Standard Midnight Express Lancero

9 Apr 2018

Cladwell Cigar Co. was launched in 2014 by Robert Caldwell with a lineup of Dominican blends. The company seemingly came out of nowhere; its cigars debuted only about eight months after Caldwell walked away from Wynwood Cigars, a co-venture with Christian Eiroa, formerly of Camacho. Most people will tell you eight months isn’t nearly enough time to create and execute a vision for a new brand, but Robert Caldwell isn’t most people.

The following year, in 2015, in an effort to reach segments of the market that don’t typically seek Dominican smokes, Caldwell introduced Blind Man’s Bluff. The line is crafted at Agroindustrias Laepe S.A. in Danlí, Honduras—best known as the factory that produces Camacho—using a “their kitchen, our chef” approach. Caldwell says the intention was to make a “Caldwell-eqsue” cigar from tobaccos to which he didn’t previously have access.

Then, in 2016, Caldwell introduced Eastern Standard Midnight Express. Unlike the Dominican Corojo-wrapped Eastern Standard line, which is billed as mild- to medium-bodied, Eastern Standard Midnight Express is marketed as medium- to full-bodied. Its recipe calls for a Connecticut Arapiraca Maduro wrapper, a Habana Dominicano binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua (Habano) and the Dominican Republic (Criollo ’98 and Corojo).

The Caldwell website lists four Eastern Standard Midnight Express sizes—Corona, Robusto, Piramide, and Toro—but, at my local tobacconist, I found a Lancero (7.5 x 42), which cost me $11.85 (not including insane Chicago taxes).

The Lancero is a handsome, firm, moderately oily, Colorado Maduro-colored cigar with a dark band of black and gold and a ring at the foot that denotes “Midnight Express.” While a pigtail cap may have been the intention, the result (likely from packaging and shipping) is more of a twisted tail that’s flattened to the cap’s surface. The foot exhibits faint pre-light notes of honey and dry wood.

A single wooden match is all that’s need to establish an even light. On the palate, the Lancero is moist and woody with notes of oak, damp earth, leather, and some cayenne heat on the finish. There’s also a background sweetness that reminds me of cherry and dried fruit.

There are some changes to the flavor as the cigar progresses. For starters, the spice amps up a bit after an inch or so. Notably, this is a cinnamon spice, not black pepper. Here, I’d classify the body as solidly medium. Then, at the midway point, there’s a heavy dose of charred meat, salt, and black coffee. The meatiness—a taste of which I’m not particularly fond—tends to play  a greater and greater role as the Lancero progresses.

Construction is good throughout. Expect a slow, straight burn, a moderate draw, solid smoke production, and a gray ash that holds pretty well off the foot.

For me, the Eastern Standard Midnight Express Lancero starts complex and promising, only to become overly meaty and salty in the second half. Smoking with a deliberately slowed pace doesn’t seem to noticeably offset this trend. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of two 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: Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes

2 Apr 2018

Havana-born Nelson Alfonso is the graphic designer behind Selected Tobacco, an ultra-premium outfit that produces cigars under the Atabey, Byron, and Bandolero brands, among others. Even if you’re unfamiliar with these cigars, you’ve almost certainly appreciated Alfonso’s work; his firm, Golden Age Visual Developers, has contributed to the packaging and design of many iconic Cuban brands, including Behike (which explains why Atabey looks so Behike-esque).

The Byron line is named for Lord Byron, an English poet and a leader of the Romantic movement. It is the revival of an old Cuban brand from the mid-nineteenth century. “Many cigar factories produced numerous brands with Anglo-American names to attract U.K. and U.S. markets, which had tremendous demand for premium cigars at the time,” according to the United Cigar website (United is Selected’s U.S. distributor).

Today, Byron is made in three different blends—Siglo XIX, Siglo XX, and Siglo XXI—to represent “what Cuban cigars were in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.” They are handmade in Costa Rica, stored in an aging room for one year, and then packaged in beautifully ornate porcelain jars or individually humidified tubes.

The Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes (6.1 x 55), introduced in 2016, is squarely in the super-premium category, with a per-cigar price that’s north of $30—even when bought by the box of 25 (the box does double as a humidor, though). For that cost, you should expect a lot.

Fortunately, the cigar’s appearance lives up to the lofty expectations set by the price. This is a remarkably beautiful and well-constructed cigar. Beneath three intricate bands of black, blue, and white with silver and gold accents, you’ll find an incredibly smooth, almost vein-free Colorado-colored Ecuadorian-wrapped cigar with a perfect cap. The cold draw is smooth with just the right amount of resistance. At the foot, I find pre-light notes of dried apricot and marshmallow sweetness.

The profile—which is, in my opinion, consistent from light to nub—is medium-bodied and balanced. Flavors range from bread and honey to cedar spice and dry oak. There’s a background note of herbal tea. I also find a range of earthy flavors and a familiar sensation I can only describe as warm tobacco. On the finish, there are warm spices, including clove, cinnamon, and cayenne heat.

As far as construction goes, the white ash can be a tad flaky but, honestly, that’s pretty nitpicky. I don’t think you’ll encounter any issues. The draw is perfect, the smoke production solid, and the burn line requires zero touch-ups.

Only 200 boxes of 25 Elegantes have been made available in the U.S. That makes this cigar not only exceptionally expensive; it’s also pretty rare. Is it worth your money and time? That’s a hard question to answer, and one that likely depends on your own unique circumstances. For me, the Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes is a tasty, interesting cigar, but not one I would regularly seek out at this price point. For that, I’m awarding it three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Macanudo Inspirado Red Robusto

28 Mar 2018

Macanudo is one of the most popular cigars in America, and the mild Macanudo Cafe and Gold blends (both of which feature a classic green and white band) are most closely identified with the brand. For better or worse, that popularity shapes the brand’s identity. The upside is Macanudo is a go-to for mild cigar smokers who know they will get exactly what they want. The commercial challenge has been expanding that successful reputation beyond mild offerings, especially as tastes 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/Scandinavian Tobacco Group (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. That means Macanudo is far and away the best-known brand owned by STG outside the U.S. This may account for why Macanudo Inspirado was first marketed elsewhere.

Since its U.S. debut in 2014, Inspirado has been building an identity as a sub-brand, with the intention to serve as a bolder, fuller-flavored Macanudo. In addition to the orange-banded original Inspirado, the Black and White lines were added to the portfolio in 2017. (Previously, there had been an online/catalog-only Inspirado Black, which featured orange lettering; but that blend is different from the regular production Macanudo Black.)

Now, as part of Macanudo’s 50th anniversary celebrations, a new Inspirado is rolling out. Called Inspirado Red, it sports an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder from Jalapa, and well-aged filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua (specifically, 12-year-old Ometepe, 10-year-old Jamastran, and 5-year-old Estelí). Three vitolas will be offered: Toro (6 x 50, $6.99), Gigante (6 x 60, $7.49), and a box-pressed Robusto (5 x 50, $6.49). All are made at the STG Estelí factory.

My first experience with this new line came in the form of a Robusto five-pack. The moderately oily wrapper has a rustic appearance thanks to a rough-looking cap, less-than-perfect seams, and a pretty extensive network of veins. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of milk chocolate. The cold draw is wide open; there’s almost no resistance.

The initial profile is medium-bodied and woodsy with flavors ranging from dry oak and cedar spice to warm tobacco and some delightful roasted cashew. There is a bit of creamy sweetness in the background. At times, the short finish has some bitter notes. But when the cashew shines through, as it does about every three puffs, the taste is highly enjoyable and well-balanced.

At the midway point, the Robusto starts to heat up considerably. The body remains medium, and the strength low, yet there’s heat in both temperature (perhaps a result of the ultra-airy draw) and cayenne spice. The finale is characterized by a retreat of heat, more earthy tones, leather, and dry wood. All the while the construction is solid, save for the flaky ash, which can fall off quite unpredictably.

If you’re looking for a woodsy, medium-bodied experience that won’t break the bank, the new Macanudo Inspirado Red Robusto should be on your list to try. I rate it a respectable three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Romeo San Andrés Toro

19 Mar 2018

Earlier this month, Altadis unveiled the latest in the seemingly never-ending expansion of its highly visible Romeo y Julieta brand. This one is Romeo San Andrés, a collaboration between Rafael Nodal and A.J. Fernandez that adheres to the modern packaging of the Romeo line that was launched about six years ago (and, later, Romeo Añejo and Romeo 505 Nicaragua).

“This elegant cigar, crafted in Estelí, Nicaragua, brings today’s connoisseurs a contemporary take on the rich and robust profiles of the Romeo y Julieta collection,” reads a press release. “This exceptional premium offering employs an aged San Andrés wrapper, considered one of the most flavorful leaves used in today’s premium cigar market.”

In addition to the dark, Mexican wrapper, Romeo San Andrés sports a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It comes in four sizes that range in price from $9.35 to $9.85: Robusto (5 x 50), Pirámides (6.1 x 52), Short Magnum (5.5 x 60), and Toro (6 x 54).

The latter is a firm, dense, handsome cigar with ultra-thin veins and smooth seams. At the foot, I find mouth-watering pre-light notes of dark chocolate and espresso bean. Once the rough cap is clipped, the cold draw is effortless.

The Toro starts full-bodied and strong with a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and leather. Background notes of dried fruits (fig and apricot, namely) add balance.

After only a quarter of an inch, there is a noticeable transition. As the spice begins to fade, flavors of cream and roasted cashew emerge. Here, I’d downgrade the body to medium, though the strength remains quite full.

At the midway point and thereafter, there is less and less spice. In its place, there are notes of café au lait, warm tobacco sweetness, earth, leather, and some rustic grit.

All the while, construction is impeccable. The straight burn requires zero touch-ups along the way, the draw is clear, the smoke production voluminous, and the gray ash holds exceptionally well off the foot.

San Andrés can be a polarizing wrapper. I know cigar enthusiasts who love it, and those who dislike it. If you’re in the former camp, give the Romeo San Andrés a try. It’s a very respectable San Andrés specimen and, in my estimation, 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

Cigar Review: La Gloria Cubana Colección Reserva Robusto

14 Mar 2018

Collaborations are nothing new in the cigar industry. In fact, some very large brands are the result of collaborations between a brand owner and an otherwise unaffiliated factory. While the La Gloria Cubana Colecction Reserva is also a collaboration (between La Gloria Cubana and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.’s Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.), it’s hardly the first time Perez-Carrillo has been associated with La Gloria Cubana.

The non-Cuban version of La Gloria Cubana was made for years by Perez-Carrillo, who gained prominence as one of the original boutique cigar makers in the 1990s. In 1999, the brand, along with El Credito Cigar Co., was sold to General Cigar’s parent company.

Perez-Carrillo stayed with General for another decade until he left to start his own family-controlled company and established the Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. factory in Santiago’s Zona Franca. La Alianza is just minutes away from the General Cigar Dominicana factory, also in Zona Franca, which is the current home of La Gloria Cubana. (General Cigar has La Gloria Cubana cigars made in a separate El Credito area inside the facility to keep some production techniques distinct from other brands.)

Colección Reserva isn’t even the first collaboration between General Cigar and Perez-Carrillo in recent years. That would be the limited edition Re+United from a few years back. And the commercial relationship goes back even further than that. (I recall seeing EPC boxes being made at the General Cigar box factory back in 2011.)

La Gloria Cubana Colección Reserva is made at La Alianza, as opposed to General Cigar Dominicana (where Re+United was produced). It is distributed by General Cigar which, by most accounts, is the largest importer of handmade cigars in the United States.

The cigar has an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is packaged in 20-count boxes in 3 sizes: the Robusto I smoked (5 x 54), a Torpedo (6 x 54), and a Churchill-sized Presidente (7.5 x 54).

The Robusto features woodsy notes along with with leather and salted roast cashew. There’s a slight red pepper spice that lingers on the inside of your lips and also some nice sweetness (berries and dates), especially in the middle third of the cigar.

It’s a medium- to full-bodied smoke with a lingering tannic finish. Nicely textured smoke coats the palate like a fine powder.

The Robusto has a relatively loose draw and spongy feel, but construction doesn’t suffer any ill effects. The ash holds firm for at least a full inch and the burn is straight on all three samples I smoked.

In addition to enjoyable flavors and solid construction, the price ($7.59) makes this an impressive offering. If the same cigar were made for Crowned Heads (also a La Alianza customer) would it not have earned more buzz?

No matter the answer, if this is the future of collaboration in the cigar industry, sign me up. Full, complex flavors, good construction, and a fair price earn La Gloria Cubana Colección Reserva Robusto a rating of 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: Illusione Holy Lance (hl)

7 Mar 2018

We’ve reviewed a handful of the original line of Illusione cigars, now known as the Original Documents, but never the lancero-sized Holy Lance (hl). While the Original Documents natural-wrapped Illusione line has come to designate the debut of Illusione, hl, plus the corona-sized mk, were added to the line in 2008.

Illusione brand owner Dion Giolito has been well known (and occasionally criticized) for the use of spiritual and/or conspiratorial themes for the names of his cigars. Holy Lance (7.5 x 40) is no exception, as Dion explained back in 2009:

The Holy Lance. My Lancero, the lance. Get it? Constantine was the first Christian emperor to lead Rome. It was fabled that he had possession of the very spear that punctured the side of Jesus while on the cross. He was said to carry this relic into battle and, it was said that it helped him win his many battles. It is an artisan blend and the mildest of all my cigars.

The cigar uses a blend of Nicaraguan Criollo ’98 and Corojo ’99 tobaccos finished with a triple-A grade Corojo Rosado wrapper. Whether intentional or not, the wrappers of the cigars I smoked were more reddish than other vitolas from the Illusione line. Each of the three samples I smoked were aged over three years.

The cigars produced an abundance of medium-bodied flavors with toast, cedar, oak, leather, and almond milk. There are hints of white and green pepper spice, especially on the finish. All in all, it’s a balanced symphony of complex, authentically Nicaraguan flavors, which is perhaps not surprising considering Giolito says his inspiration for the blend is the Joya de Nicaragua cigars of the pre-Sandanista era.

Construction on my Holy Lance was flawless, with excellent combustion and a firm, yet not overly tight, draw, which sometimes can be a challenge to create in the slender lancero format. The even ash held for a full inch at a time.

I consider this to be one of the finest lanceros in production today, and these aged cigars showed that they lose nothing after a few years, and might have gained some added complexity. Though not the first Illusione cigar to earn our highest rating, the Holy Lance is the first from Illusione’s original blend to earn 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 S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Intemperance BA XXI Vanity

5 Mar 2018

Generally speaking, I rarely prefer cigars with thick ring gauges. That’s nothing new. This penchant for thinner vitolas seems to square with my peers in cigar media as much as it flies in the face of cigar consumers as a whole. (I’ve heard more than one cigar maker lament about making smokes with ring gauges of 60 or more, yet they soldier on because those sizes sell.)

The winter months only reinforce this preference as I seek smaller, thinner cigars that will concentrate considerable flavor into a shorter format—thereby limiting my exposure to the unforgiving elements. It therefore stands to reason that I would gravitate toward Vanity (5.5 x 37), the panatela in RoMa Craft Tobac’s Intemperance BA XXI. This line, after all, is one of my absolute favorites in terms of consistency, flavor, and bang-for-the-buck.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Intemperance BA XXI features a Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper (hence “BA”) around an Indonesian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. (There’s also a companion Intemperance EC XVIII line that’s wrapped in an Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf.) My favorite cigar in the BA XXI blend is the A.W.S. IV, a lonsdale (6.5 x 44) that costs $7. If I were stranded on a desert island and only allowed to take a couple different types of cigars, this would undoubtedly be one of them.

Vanity is thinner and a full inch shorter. It retails for about $7. The beautiful wrapper is dark and mottled with moderate oils, tight seams, and a network of fairly thin veins. The pre-light notes remind me of dark chocolate and molasses. Notably, the binder/filler protrudes slightly from the foot which, cigar maker Skip Martin says, gives the consumer the brief chance to sample the blend without the wrapper before it quickly changes.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m able to discern the difference in flavor when the fire finds the wrapper, perhaps because I should be trying harder to only light the binder/filler. Either way, I would describe the introductory flavor as a combination of chocolaty sweetness with hints of oak, peanut, black pepper spice, and a little leather.

Towards the midway point, the body, spice, and intensity ramp up a notch. All the while, this change is expertly balanced by a sweet creaminess and a chewy, marshmallow-like texture that reminds me of nougat. There are few changes in the final third, save for an increase in intensity and cayenne heat.

Construction is superb from light to nub, as you would expect from the craftsmen and craftswomen of Nica Sueño, RoMa Craft’s factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. (If you ever have the chance, by the way, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Nica Sueño; you’ll be amazed at the mastery, care, and attention to detail in this small space.) Vanity is blessed with a straight burn, solid gray ash, and a smooth draw.

While Vanity is an awesome cigar for any time of year, I especially appreciate it during the cold months here in Chicago. It’s rare to find such flavor, balance, complexity, and consistency in such a small format. I still consider the A.W.S. IV the pinnacle vitola in this terrific blend, but Vanity is up there. It earns 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