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Cigar Review: CAO Session Garage

21 Oct 2019

You won’t find too many details about Rick Rodriquez’s career on his LinkedIn profile. Basically, it says he has been at General Cigar since 1999, and the only role listed is “blender/ambassador.” Not exactly the kind of detail I was hoping for.

General’s website thankfully has more information about Rodriguez. There, we can learn that he distinguished himself as a sales rep to the point where “General Cigar’s team of cigar masters unanimously selected Rick to participate in a rigorous cigar master training program” that brought him throughout the cigar world to learn about “tobacco agriculture, cultivation, aging, processing, cigar rolling, and ultimately, cigar blending.” Not a bad gig.

Fifteen years ago, Rodriquez’s training brought him to Yuri Guillen, who is now manager of manufacturing at General Cigar Dominicana. “Since then, Ricky’s become an accomplished master blender, and he’s been all over the world sourcing the finest, most unique tobaccos for his CAO blends like Flathead, Amazon Basin, and many more of your favorites,” reads the CAO Session microsite. “With the new CAO Session, Ricky’s gone back to his roots, blending his new signature cigar in the Dominican Republic alongside Yuri and his original team.”

Session, which shipped to retailers in early July, is a no-nonsense, everyday smoke inspired by the many cigars Rodriguez smoked in his garage. It is marketed as a medium-bodied, full-flavored stick for any occasion. The recipe includes a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Dominican binder, and Dominican Piloto Cubano and Nicaraguan Estelí filler tobaccos.

There are three Session formats available, each packaged in 20-count boxes: Garage (5.25 x 54, $8.59), Bar (6 x 49, $8.99), and Shop (6 x 60, $9.59). They are handmade in the Dominican Republic and employ a “unique post-fermentation treatment [that] deepens Session’s flavor and darkens its color.”

I sampled three CAO Sessions in the Garage format for this review. As with many Connecticut Broadleaf cigars, it is lumpy and toothy in appearance. The dark, thick wrapper has some noticeable veins and an oily sheen. The dual bands of orange, white, and dark blue—from the perspective of this Bears/Illini fan, a wonderful color scheme—loudly proclaim the blend and invite you to partake in a “session” of your own: “Sit. Smoke. Chill.” Rodriguez’s signature adorns the back.

The cold draw isn’t what I’d call tight but, for whatever reason, I find the Garage slightly more enjoyable if I clip the cap a little further down than I otherwise would.

Once lit, pre-light notes of raisin and damp earth transition to a full-bodied introductory profile of black pepper spice, leather, earth, and a faint sugary note. Sometimes I pick up a hint of citrus. Along the way, these same flavors come and go. At times the profile shines, at times it is muted. Nothing too complex. The final third is hot and somewhat bitter.

While the draw and smoke production are solid, the burn requires multiple touch-ups along the way to keep things burning evenly. As a result, the ash—while holding well—does not layer evenly. I found these physical attributes consistent across all three specimens.

While I certainly respect Rick Rodriquez and all he has accomplished, I think the CAO Session Garage leaves a lot to be desired. The combustion issues could certainly be overlooked if the flavor was consistently exciting. It is not, and that’s ultimately why I’m settling on a disappointing 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: Aquitaine Pestra Muierilor

9 Oct 2019

As the weather cools I find myself looking for smaller cigars to enjoy. Not cigarillos or mini machine-mades, but smaller format, handmade cigars that can be enjoyed in 30 minutes when the time is short and the weather is chilly.

When RoMa Craft Tobac burst onto the scene, the outfit favored large ring gauges; now RoMa has a portfolio of a variety of shapes and sizes. In 2015, RoMa introduced El Catador de las Petite Coronas, a sampler of their five primary blends, all in the petit corona format. Now each is available in its own 30-count box.

One example is the Aquitaine Pestra Muierilor (4 x 46). Like other Aquitaine vitolas, it features an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero wrapper, a Cameroon binder, and Nicaraguan filler consisting of tobaccos from Condega, Estelí, and Pueblo Nuevo. Boxes of 30 have a suggested retail price of $195, but I’ve seen them sell for under $140 (or under $5 per cigar).

The Pestra Muierilor features a chestnut brown wrapper with a little oily shine. Pre-light, notes include coffee, cocoa, and light spice. Once lit, you’ll find a full-bodied smoke with leather, toast, dry earth, and a combination of floral and fruit sweetness.

The cigar sports a peppery retrohale. The finish is long with dry chocolate, baking spices, and creamy notes. Construction is notably excellent, especially for such a compact format, with plenty of smoke production, an even draw, and a mostly even burn.

Pestra Muierilor is a sparkplug of a little smoke, full of flavor even if at times it seems to come at the expanse of balance. I think the depth of the Aquitaine blend is better showcased in larger formats, but that doesn’t mean the Pestra Muierilor isn’t a highly enjoyable 30-40 minute smoke. It 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: Intemperance Whiskey Rebellion 1794 Hamilton

8 Oct 2019

Nothing says “America!” quite like a tax protest, the most preeminent of which has to be the “no taxation without representation” movement that culminated in the Boston Tea Party. Whiskey is objectively better than tea, though; the 1790s insurrection against the so-called “whiskey tax” shouldn’t be overlooked.

Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac is doing his part to draw cigar enthusiasts’ attention to the Whiskey Rebellion. You need look no further than a certain cigar in his Intemperance line—entirely fitting since Intemperance is an ode to everything the temperance movement was against (namely, booze).

The Intemperance Whiskey Rebellion 1794 cigar line debuted in 2016—approximately 222 years after the actual Whiskey Rebellion was squelched by President Washington. It was initially an exclusive for Famous Smoke Shop, which is headquartered in Easton, Pennsylvania (not far from the route Washington rode through Reading to Carlisle and back west through Womelsdorf to check in on the militia he sent to suppress the uprising).

Starting this summer, the Whiskey Rebellion cigar is no longer exclusive to Famous. It is available to retailers nationwide. It employs an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, an Indonesian Bezuki binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

There are five sizes, each named for a major player in the rebellion. Hamilton (4 x 46, $6.15) is named for Alexander Hamilton, who believed an excise tax on whiskey would help the young nation pay for the Revolutionary War and draw public attention to the negative effects of alcohol. Jefferson (4.5 x 50, $7.10) is named for Thomas Jefferson, a prominent opponent of the tax. McFarlane (5 x 50, $7.35) is named for Major James McFarlane, the commander of the rebels who died in the conflict. Washington (5.5 x 54, $7.85) is obviously named for George Washington. And Bradford (5 x 56, $8) is named for David Bradford, a leader of the rebellion.

The Hamilton is a compact, handsome smoke with the familiar Intemperance band and a dark secondary band denoting the blend. As with other Intemperance lines, the exposed foot shows the binder and filler bunch for about a quarter inch past the wrapper. The cold draw is smooth.

The foot lights easily and immediately offers a unique opportunity to taste the binder/filler combo before the wrapper comes into play. To me, this part of the cigar is drier and spicier and less balanced than when the wrapper is lit—which stands up to reason.

Once fully operational, the Hamilton impacts a profile that’s medium-bodied, dry, and woodsy. Individual notes include cedar, oak, espresso, and thick molasses. The background sweetness has a character of warm natural tobacco. The texture is leathery and, at times, I can pick up a cherry sweetness. Across the three samples I smoked for this review, two had occasional burn issues that were easily corrected with a few torch touch-ups.

From light to nub, this cigar lasts about 45 minutes—which makes it a perfect way to satisfy an Intemperance craving without a significant time commitment. Call me a RoMa fanboy if you like, but this is another winner from Skip Martin, and a great sub-$7 smoke. In my book it’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Review: Diamond Crown Black Diamond Radiant

30 Sep 2019

The J.C. Newman Cigar Co., best known for its Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown cigars, was founded in 1895. That’s the year a young Julius Caeser Newman crafted his first cigars in the family barn in Cleveland, which is about 1,100 miles from the city that’s been synonymous with the company for decades: Tampa. J.C. Newman has operated there since its 1954 move to a historic cigar factory in the heart of the Ybor City neighborhood.

With so much history—and given this industry’s proclivity to never let an anniversary pass without a new cigar—it’s no wonder J.C. Newman has a few milestone cigars. Diamond Crown, for example, while originally available in the 1940s and 1950s, was relaunched into the super-premium line you know today in 1995 to commemorate the company’s 100th anniversary. Later, in 2010, Diamond Crown Julius Caeser celebrated the 115th anniversary.

Not every Diamond Crown recognizes a milestone, though (which is perfectly fine, by the way; one shouldn’t require a reason to create a great cigar). I am not aware of any special motivation behind the launch of Diamond Crown Maximus in 2003. Nor am I of the newest Diamond Crown addition: Black Diamond.

Launched in 2016, Black Diamond is made at the Tabacalera A. Fuente factory in the Dominican Republic for J.C. Newman. “Eric and Bobby Newman worked closely with Carlos Fuente, Sr. and Carlos Fuente, Jr. developing a new blend worthy of the Black Diamond name,” reads a J.C. Newman press release. The result is a three-vitola line that includes a dark, eight-year-old Connecticut Havana-seed sun-grown wrapper around a Dominican binder and five-year-old Dominican filler tobaccos grown exclusively for this cigar. This “small-batch, epicurean cigar” is made in limited quantities and only available at 150 retailers.

The three sizes are: Emerald (6 x 52), Marquis (5.25 x 56), and Radiant (4.5 x 54). In keeping with Diamond Crown tradition, they are expensive. Per-cigar prices range from $15.55 to $18.25 when bought by boxes of 20; or $17.25 to $20.25 when bought by the 5-pack.

The Diamond Crown Black Diamond Radiant is a stout, pudgy cigar that’s mottled and fairly toothy. It has thin veins and a relatively spongy feel. At the foot are delicate pre-light notes of cocoa and leather. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a slightly stiff cold draw.

At this price, it’s impossible not to have high expectations when you light up your first. Fortunately, the Radiant gets off to a great start with well-balanced notes of espresso, dark chocolate, creamy peanut, and cereals. The texture is bready, the body is decidedly medium, and the spice level is low. The finish is characterized by cinnamon.

As it progresses, baking spices come to the fore and a green raisin note emerges. All the while the combustion properties are admirable. The burn line is straight, the draw opens nicely once lit, the smoke production is good, and the ash holds well off the foot.

I would only change one thing about the Diamond Crown Black Diamond Radiant: the price. I suppose that isn’t a fair way to judge a cigar, though. Price is so subjective. To one wallet, $10 is a lot to spend on a cigar; to another, it’s quite reasonable. At any rate, this is a wonderful cigar worthy of your time, attention, and, yes, hard-earned money. 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: CroMagnon Blockhead

23 Sep 2019

In August 2018, the last time we published a full review of a CroMagnon cigar, I stopped just short of begging forgiveness. “We’ve been operating StogieGuys.com since May 2006,” I wrote. “As a result, for over twelve years, much of what I’ve smoked has been dictated by necessity for this website. And while I’m sure you won’t shed any tears in my honor (despite being a lot of work, running a cigar site is a rewarding, entertaining endeavor), you can probably appreciate my predicament. Sometimes I just want to smoke—and, yes, write about—an old favorite.”

This was how I started my review of the CroMagnon Cranium, a blend that—at that time—had already been the subject of three previous articles at this website. Today, though, I’m not going to any lengths to explain myself. While CroMagnon is nothing new (either, as I’ve already stated, to this website, or to the cigar marketplace as a whole) we have not yet written about the Blockhead vitola. So here we are.

As a reminder, the CroMagnon recipe calls for a dark Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper, a Cameroon binder, and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos from Estelí, Condega, and a small farm just south of the Honduran border. It is handmade for RoMa Craft Tobac under the direction of Skip Martin at the Fabrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A. factory in Estelí.

Blockhead (6 x 54) is box-pressed. It retails for about $11 for a single, or $100 for a box of 10. Not unlike the Cranium, it has a dark, reddish exterior leaf with moderate oils, plenty of tooth, and a couple noticeable veins. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of dark chocolate and syrup. The rough cap clips cleanly, and the cold draw is nearly effortless—noticeably clearer, in my opinion, than the Cranium.

Once lit, the body seems to be less intense than other CroMagon cigars. While it’s still a thick, leathery cigar with notes of black pepper, espresso, and chalky earth, the familiar char has been replaced with sweet notes: honey, graham cracker, and Cuban coffee with sugar.

In my previous comments about the Cranium, I had written, “To write this off as a power-bomb would be to overlook the expert blending that so clearly went into the cigar’s creation. There’s a complexity and balance here that’s often missing from many straightforwardly strong cigars. Creamy peanut, dark chocolate, and hickory add layers. And the strength level dips and surges—an effective strategy that ensures interest is not lost.”

With the Blockhead, all those supremely tasty flavors are there. But the aforementioned sweetness continues to surge along the way. As the cigar progresses, the combustion properties are stellar. The smoke production is voluminous, the ash holds well, the burn line is straight, and the draw is smooth.

I think this is my favorite CroMagnon vitola—and that’s saying something. What an immensely satisfying, well-balanced smoke. I’m settling on a deservedly wonderful score 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: Sir Robert Peel Maduro

18 Sep 2019

Earlier this year, Cubariqueño Cigar Co. announced its newest line named after Sir Robert Peel, considered the father of modern-day policing. The tribute to the revered British policeman makes sense when you consider that Bill Ives and Juan Cancel of Cubariqueño both have law enforcement backgrounds.

The line is made at the La Zona Cigar Factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. It comes in two wrapper variations—Ecuadorian Rosado and Pennsylvania Broadleaf Maduro wrapper—each surrounding Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Both are presented in a box-pressed toro format (6 x 52) with a suggested retail price of $12.

Today I’m examining the Maduro edition (which features a red band around the foot). Pre-light, it features golden raisins and light spice. The cigar is firm to the touch and, once lit, produces an even burn with loads of thick smoke from a sturdy ash.

It’s a full-bodied smoke from the get-go. Leather, chocolate, espresso, cedar, and cinnamon notes are all apparent. The finish is long with a woody notes and powdery unsweetened chocolate that lingers on the roof of your mouth. There is little variation from beginning to end.

Cubariqueño is best known for its Protocol line. But with Sir Robert Peel they are taking their partnership with Erik Espinosa’s La Zona beyond the basic Protocol branding. The full-bodied cigar has a lot to offer, and its old-school look is a departure from Protocol’s modern presentation.

Full-bodied, slightly rustic, and well-constructed, the Sir Robert Peel Maduro has a lot to offer. It earns the new Cubariqueño offering a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas 2019

16 Sep 2019

Fourteen years ago, General Cigar Co. released a limited edition Partagas called Decadas. Spanish for “decades,” the line featured a ten-year-old Cameroon wrapper. The annual Decadas release was repeated until 2009, when General reportedly ran out of aged Cameroon.

But the 2009 Cameroon harvest was a very good one, according to General. This year it turned ten years old. Decadas has therefore been revived.

The Partagas Decadas 2019 comes beautifully presented in a green, ten-count box that’s protected by a white sleeve. Inside, each robusto extra (5.5 x 49)—the only size offered—is housed in a glass tube. Only 2,500 boxes were made, for a total run of 25,000 cigars.

Out in the open, you can take the measure of the precious Cameroon wrapper, which is surprisingly dark. It’s slightly oily with thin veins and a well-executed cap. The pre-light notes at the foot remind me of molasses. The cold draw is effortless, even if you only snip the very tip of the cap.

Once lit, the Honduran San Agustín binder and filler tobaccos (Dominican Piloto Cubano and Nicaraguan Ometepe) combine to yield a medium-bodied flavor that places the Cameroon sweetness centerstage. Sweet cedar comes to mind, as does the oft-repeated “warm tobacco sweetness” phrase. I don’t want to give you the impression this is simply a straightforward sugar stick, though. It’s not overly sweet, and there’s plenty else going on, including black pepper spice, red pepper heat, cereals, and oak.

I am not picking up a ton of changes at the midway point. Here, the cedar is a bit spicier and a little less sweet. I also believe the profile is earthier and more bready. This carries through to the final third, which is characterized by a slight increase in spice and intensity—still staying solidly in the medium-bodied range, though.

Throughout, the combustion properties are superb. The burn line is straight and requires no touch-ups along the way. The ash holds well, the draw is easy, and the smoke production is wonderful.

I honestly can’t recall if I experienced any of the previous Decadas releases. But that’s neither here nor there. This is a new cigar with a new blend (no previous Decadas employed Nicaraguan tobacco, for example); it deserves to be judged on its own merits. And while some will surely regret the lack of strength and relatively subdued body, I’ve always enjoyed mixing up my rotation with milder smokes and can appreciate their subtlety.

If you share this appreciation, I would suggest picking up a Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas 2019. It retails for $14.99 and shipped to retailers on July 14. And it’s worthy of a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys