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Cigar Review: Paul Garmirian Gourmet No. 2 ’95

27 Sep 2017

Despite D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all having nearly comprehensive smoking bans, the DMV—as it’s sometimes called—is really a pretty good place for cigar smokers. There are a handful of good cigar bars, a dozen good cigar shops, and, if you know where to look, a good number of restaurants with non-indoor spaces where you can light up.

One of the frequently overlooked cigar shops in the area is McLean PG Boutique, which doubles as the headquarters for Paul Garmirian Cigars. If you are looking for a non-PG Cigar, the offerings are limited and a somewhat eclectic. Two-thirds of the shop’s humidor is dedicated to PG, which I happen to be a fan of.

Of those cigars, the boutique not only carries a full variety of sizes of all the PG blends, but also many vintage offerings, especially of the original Gourmet blend. Gourmet features a Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrapper around Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. Frankly, I doubt you’ll find a better selection of 20-year-old cigars in the country, especially considering most are priced under $20. (If you want to buy some, try calling their store because they very rarely pop up elsewhere.)

On a recent visit, they had just put out a box of the No. 2 size which had been rolled in 1995. The non-vintage version of the vitola (4.75 x 48) sells for $11 each; for only a few dollars more, though, you can smoke one with 22 years of age. It’s an easy decision.

Pre-light, after sliding the cigar out of its slightly yellowed cellophane, the Gourmet No. 2 exhibits notes of old tobacco, leather, and hay. Once lit, it starts out with a burst of spice and some wet cedar, paper, and white pepper.

As it progresses, it settles into a more traditional combination of hay, bread, honey, and a hint of fresh cut grass. The finish of the medium-bodied smoke has more cedar and black coffee.

The wrapper is slightly wrinkled, a sign of its age, but the construction is flawless. Particularly notable is the solid dark gray ash, which only needs to be ashed twice for the entire cigar.

For a cigar with over two decades of age, it has more intense flavors than I might have expected. Fortunately, that intensity does not negatively impact the balanced flavors. I’ve been fortunate to smoke a 1992 version of this cigar and, although I enjoyed that cigar (and a 1991 PG) slightly more, the PG Gourmet Series No 2 Vintage 1995 is a highly enjoyable experience. That earns it a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: L’Atelier Imports La Mission 1999

25 Sep 2017

L’Atelier Imports was established about five years ago by Pete Johnson (of Tatuaje fame, of course) and several other partners to make “consumer price-conscious cigars.” The L’Atelier portfolio includes Surrogates, El Suelo, Trocadéro, L’Atelier Maduro, the original L’Atelier core line, and La Mission.

La Mission debuted in 2015 as a tribute to Château La Mission Haut-Brion, a French winery of which Johnson is apparently a huge fan. While the winery is not connected to L’Atelier Imports in any way business-wise—and while Johnson even makes his own wines elsewhere (you can read a bit about that in this New York Times article)—this cigar line is named for Château La Mission Haut-Brion, and its vitolas commemorate specific vintages.

There are seven La Mission formats listed on the L’Atelier website, each packaged in 18-count boxes and (with the exception of the torpedo) adorned with a pigtail cap: 1955 (6.75 x 44), 1959 (4.75 x 52), 1982 (6.1 x 52, torpedo), 1989 (5.6 x 54), 1999 (5.6 x 46), 2003 (6.25 x 48), and 2009 (6.5 x 56). The blend recipe includes a dark Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Included is some Sancti Spíritus tobacco, which is a cross between Criollo and Pelo d’Oro that’s grown in Ecuador and featured in many L’Atelier cigars.

La Mission 1999 retails in the $8-9 range and is characterized by a soft (almost oval) press. Its intricate band of cream, red, gold, and black gives the cigar a regal appearance despite the thick, toothy, rustic wrapper. The foot exhibits pungent pre-light notes of cocoa powder and barnyard. While firm in the hand, the cigar has an effortless cold draw once the cap is clipped.

The initial profile is bold and full-bodied with a hearty dose of espresso, black pepper spice, dry oak, and cayenne heat. As it progresses, a smooth, earthy core emerges that has significantly less grit than I’ve come to expect from many other San Andrés-wrapped cigars. Into the midway point, the body mellows slightly to the medium- to full-bodied range with secondary flavors of dark chocolate, sweet cream, and black cherry. The texture is chalky. The final third, while cool, is characterized by a reprise of intensity with a focus on black pepper and espresso.

Put simply, La Mission 1999 smokes majestically. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a cigar with superior construction. Expect an easy draw, ample smoke production, a straight burn line, and a finely layered white ash that holds very well off the foot.

L’Atelier boasts a portfolio of fine cigars of which virtually any outfit in the industry would be proud to call its own. Yet La Mission 1999 may be the best L’Atelier to date. I would even encourage those who are typically put off by San Andrés (I know you’re out there) to give this standout specimen a try. It is a shining example of the depth, balance, and richness that can be achieved when the Mexican wrapper is blended properly. For that, it earns an outstanding rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Montecristo Churchill Añejado (Cuban)

20 Sep 2017

You have to hand it to the Cuban government. For a communist regime ostensibly dedicated to the tradition of Marxism-Leninism, they sure let their state-run cigar company embrace capitalism and profit maximization.

The Añejados line, introduced in 2015, is a profit-seeking solution to the common complaint that Cuban cigars are frequently under-aged. Rather than address the issue across the board by better aging tobacco before cigars are rolled, Habanos created the limited Añejados line to feature cigars aged at least five years after they are rolled, then priced accordingly.

This Montecristo Churchill was the second variety introduced in the line (after a Romeo y Julieta Pirámide) in 2015. I bought two while in France last month where they cost around $22 U.S. apiece.

Both of my Montecristo Churchill Añejados exhibited good construction. Wrapped in a medium brown wrapper with a little shine, the Churchill (7 x 47) is firm to the touch. As it progresses, the draw gets a bit on the tight side, although it’s not overly problematic. The ash is notably sturdy, with one cigar holding for a full two inches before I decided not to tempt fate any further.

Pre-light, flavors are graham cracker and sawdust. Once lit, the profile starts with musty bread with cinnamon notes, soon followed by a cacophony of flavors both good and bad.

Most prevalent is a traditional combination of cedar and oak with leather and coffee notes. There are also Davidoff-esque mushroom notes and a metallic finish that hits the tip of the tongue. It’s a complex and sometimes discordant flavor profile.

Needles to say, there’s a lot going on throughout the two-hour smoke. Perhaps some of this is the result of over-humidification (Paris cigar shops tend to keep their humidity levels too high), but two months in my humidor didn’t result in much change.

Instead of aging tobacco more in bales prior to rolling, the Añejado series is aged for at least five years in cedar bins after rolling. I suspect that strategy benefits the cigar’s construction, though I wish more of the aging would take place prior to rolling where it could be better targeted to the specific type of tobacco.

Price is a serious drawback to this cigar, which doesn’t taste under-aged but does feature an unusual mixture of flavors. That combination earns the Montecristo Churchill Añejado a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: 601 Serie “Green” Tronco

11 Sep 2017

There was a time when the cigars in the EO Brands portfolio—particularly 601 Blue, 601 Red, and 601 Green—were mainstays in my humidors. Back then, Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega were still in a partnership, and the 601 line was produced by none other than Don José “Pepin” Garcia at My Father Cigars.

In 2010, Rocky Patel bought a 50% stake in EO Brands, which also owned Cubao, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio. Then, in early 2012, Eddie Ortega announced he was leaving the company to start his own outfit called Ortega Cigars.

Today, Erik Espinosa operates Espinosa Premium Cigars, which he runs independently out of his La Zona Factory in Estelí. Included in his portfolio is a reincarnation of of the 601 Green, which was always the boldest, most full-bodied blend in the series. It is made with a Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

Tronco (5 x 52) sells in the $7 to $9 range. The band of green and gold is familiar yet dissimilar to the more metallic rings that graced the surfaces of the old Pepin-made 601 Greens. Beneath is a dark, oily, toothy wrapper with thin veins and tight seams. The feel is moderately firm yet the foot exhibits a cross-section of somewhat loosely packed tobaccos. The well-executed cap clips cleanly to reveal an extra-smooth cold draw that leaves a faint sweetness on the lips.

Once an even light is established, pre-light notes of dried apricot and hay transition to a medium- to full-bodied profile of cereals, warm tobacco, black pepper spice, and espresso. The texture is a bit chalky and the flavor is rich and bold. Before the first quarter inch, background notes of roasted peanut and salted caramel join in to add balance. As the Tronco approaches its midway point, the intensity of the flavors—and the nicotine kick—ramps up enough to merit an upgrade to full-bodied status. A taste of cayenne heat enters the equation. The home stretch is best characterized by an abundant burst of black pepper and espresso.

The physical properties are pretty solid from light to nub, including an easy draw, bountiful smoke production, and a well-behaved ash. The burn line does require a couple touch-ups to stay even, however.

I can’t in good faith compare this 601 Green to those that were made by Pepin years ago for several reasons. For one, I haven’t had a Pepin-made Green in years, and I don’t trust my memory (plus, even if I could recall the flavor accurately, my tastes have likely changed). Second, this is a completely different cigar that deserves to be judged on its own. Speaking of which, my assessment is Tronco is a well-made, bold, powerful cigar that has a lot to offer for seasoned cigar enthusiasts who are seeking ample strength and Nicaraguan spice. In my book, it 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: Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Especiales (Laguito No. 2)

5 Sep 2017

Limited run? Check. Boutique manufacturer with a solid reputation among cigar enthusiasts? Check. Outrageous packaging requiring a sizable investment without the opportunity to first try a single? Check. Tweaking existing blends to create exclusivity? Check.

If there were ever a product release that just screams “FOR CIGAR NERDS ONLY,” the Broadleaf Collection from Pete Johnson’s famed Tatuaje brand is it. Fortunately, after burning through quite a few of these, I am happy to report I consider this purchase money well spent.

As we’ve noted previously, with the FDA deadline just days away at the time, the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show saw a flurry of new cigar announcements, as expected. Tatuaje was no exception. And I don’t think I have to go out on a limb when I say fans of Tatuaje were most excited for the new Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection. Rightfully so.

The Reserva Broadleaf Collection consists of a whopping 100 cigars selling for $1,200, featuring ten each of the six original Miami Seleccion de Cazador (Brown Label) “HUNTER” sizes, plus the J21, SW, K222, and Cojonu 2003 blends (check out our previous musings on cigars from this collection here, here, and here). Each has its normal wrapper replaced with a Broadleaf wrapper. Fortunately, while the collection was set to only be available in 5,000 master cases of 100 (pictured above), Tatuaje has since said some will be released in boxes of ten of each size.

The master cases of 100 began arriving at retailers earlier this year. Included are ten Seleccion de Cazador Especiales (7.5 x 38), a lancero from the famed Brown Label line—which was introduced by Johnson in 2003 as an “old world, full-bodied, Cuban-style cigar.”

Ordinarily, this cigar has an Ecuadorian wrapper around its Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. This version, however, sports a thick, rustic, toothy, heavily veined Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Along with ample oils and rich pre-light notes of coca powder and dried apricot, Especiales also boasts a handsome triple-cap accented with a pigtail. The cigar is firm yet the cold draw is average. A helpful secondary band of black and gold denotes “Reserva Broadleaf” to eliminate any confusion with the original.

After setting an even light, I find a medium-bodied, slightly spicy profile with a thick, chalky texture. Flavors include cayenne heat, espresso, caramel, leather, rye, and chocolate. The draw is impressively smooth for a lancero, the smoke production solid, the resting smoke sweet and aromatic, and the burn is off to a great start.

As the cigar progresses, black pepper spice comes to the fore along with black cherry, cinnamon, and more pronounced espresso. The intensity builds at the midway point and beyond with the final third weighing in as medium- to full-bodied. All the while, the combustion properties remain solid.

I will resist the temptation to compare this to the Ecuadorian-wrapped Seleccion de Cazador Especiales because (1) it has been too long since I’ve smoked that cigar and (2) I’d prefer to evaluate this Broadleaf Collection lanerco on its own merits. All told, this is a wonderful, balanced, satisfying cigar that commands your attention from light to nub. For that, I award it an excellent rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Toro

23 Aug 2017

This Diamond Crown extension was introduced some years back to celebrate the founder of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which calls itself “America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar makers.”

Newman promotes Julius Caeser as a high-end premium, packaged in fancy boxes and originally available only at Diamond Crown lounges. In 2014, the robusto was named No. 14 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list.

But to me it seems the line has never really garnered the cachet of some other top-tier smokes rolled by Fuente, such as Opus X or God of Fire. My belief was reinforced recently when I was able to buy 10 of the toros online for around $50, roughly a third of the normal retail price listing.

The tobacco composition of Julius Caeser is a bit muddled. Newman’s website refers to an Ecuadorian Havana-seed wrapper over a rather vague “robust blend of Central American tobaccos.” That CA rating has it as an all Dominican stick, while others generally list Dominican binder and filler.

The Toro (6 x 52) has a lovely pre-light chocolate aroma from the wrapper. The cap is excellently applied and easy to clip. Performance, as you’d expect, was excellent in all of those I’ve smoked. Straight burn, fine draw, and good smoke production.

I found it to be a little stronger than my colleague when he reviewed the Julius Caeser Pyramid in 2011. I’d call it near the low end of medium. We did agree on the lack of complexity, with little in the way of changes from start to finish, especially after the first inch or so.

But what Julius Caeser produced was pleasant. I got light spice, a touch of cedar, and some deep, woody notes.

If you’re looking for a cigar you can enjoy any time of the day, this could be one to try. At the regular retail price, though, most experienced cigar smokers can probably find other sticks that stand out more. But when it’s marked down, Julius Caeser is well worth picking up. I rate the Toro three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Diamond Crown/Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Las Calaveras Edición Limitada 2015 LC50

21 Aug 2017

Las Calaveras is an annual limited release from Nashville-based manufacturer Crowned Heads. It is inspired by La Calavera Catrina (“the dapper skeleton”), a painting that has become synonymous with Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday honoring the dead.

Made at the My Father Cigars factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, the Las Calaveras tradition began in 2014 and continues today with a 2017 iteration that includes four vitolas and about 135,000 total cigars. Back in 2015, total production was only 90,000 cigars across three vitolas. So imagine my surprise when I recently stumbled across a stash of 2015 Las Calaveras cigars at one of my local tobacconists.

The three 2015 Las Calaveras formats were LC50 (5 x 50), LC46 (5.6 x 46), and LC52 (6 x 52). Each came packaged in boxes of 24 with an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. I picked up a handful of LC50s, which ran me $9.95 apiece.

The Las Calaveras Edición Limitada 2015 LC50 is a handsome, well-made cigar with an attractive, understated band of white, black, and gold over a clean, reddish, medium-brown wrapper that’s devoid of any prominent veins. It is firm, yet the cold draw is smooth once the nicely executed cap is clipped with a guillotine cutter. Interestingly, the foot exhibits only faint pre-light notes; you have to concentrate to pick up the almond and oak.

Once an even light is set, the profile can best be characterized by cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, red pepper spice, and dry wood. The texture is delightfully thick and chalky. Attentive smokers will notice a bready core of cereals and toasty grains. The overall impression is one of a well-balanced, medium-bodied, spice-forward smoke with some Cubanesque, old-school personality.

As the LC50 progresses into the midway point and beyond, some richer flavors come to the fore, including espresso, leather, and thick molasses. All the while, the spice and sweetness both remain bold, rendering the overall taste harmonious. In the background, there’s a fresh greenness to help offset flavors that are slightly bitter or savory.

Throughout, construction is impeccable. Expect an even burn that requires no touch-ups, a sold ash, a smooth draw, and good smoke production.

Tomorrow, I am headed back to my tobacconist to see if they have any more Las Calaveras cigars from 2015. I certainly hope they do. And, if you come across any, I heartily recommend you pick up whatever you can find. The LC50 is an awesomely balanced and satisfying cigar. It earns a stellar rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys