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Cigar Review: The T. Toro (Caldwell, A.J. Fernandez, and Booth)

9 May 2018

Few things are as temporary as a cigar industry retirement, which frequently is more about waiting out a non-compete than a desire to stop working with cigars. So it was a breath of a breath of fresh air when Matt Booth didn’t claim retirement when he and Room 101 ended their partnership with Davidoff. (Then again, Booth may have been too young for anyone to believe a retirement from an industry he clearly enjoys.)

“I decided not to renew. The contract ended, and I think that it’s time for a new beginning for Room 101. I am grateful for the years of partnership and support from Davidoff,” Booth said when he announced what would be just a six-month hiatus from the cigar industry in January 2017.

Sure enough, in July 2017, Booth announced he was back and collaborating with Robert Caldwell on two new cigars. The first of the two was Hit and Run, made in the Dominican Republic.

The other is The T., a collaboration between A.J. Fernandez, Robert Caldwell, and Matt Booth. Originally called The Truth, this collaboration was renamed after a copyright issue, presumably with Tatuaje (which makes a vintage cigar called La Verite, French for “the truth”), not with those gaudy propagandists at TheTruth.com.

The T. comes in 5 box-pressed sizes, including the 6-inch, 52-ring gauge Toro ($11.50). The cigar is a Nicaraguan puro made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.

It is well-constructed and firm to the touch with a dark, oily wrapper. Combustion is excellent, with a sturdy ash, easy draw, and even burn.

Once lit, the cigar features roasted cashews and black coffee notes, combined with leather and clove. It’s medium- to full-bodied with some slight tannic dryness.

As the cigar evolves, charred oak, barnyard, and light black pepper notes emerge. Different from most A.J. Fernandez-made Nicaraguan puros, but still an enjoyable cigar.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Caldwell and Booth’s Hit and Run collaboration, but this cigar hits my palate in the right way. Good construction and satisfying flavors earn this collaboration a rating of four stogies out of five.

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Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Debonaire Daybreak Toro

30 Apr 2018

Debonaire got on my radar about two years ago when Drew Estate announced it had entered an agreement to become the exclusive distributor of Debonaire and its sister brand, Indian Motorcycle cigars. Both are produced in the Dominican Republic for longtime industry veteran Phillip S. Zanghi III and Daniel Sinclair, founder of Durfort Holdings, a manufacturer of pipe tobacco, cut rag, and machine cigars.

Of the partnership, Jonathan Drew had this to say: “Phil Zanghi has been a dear personal friend of mine for two decades. When I permanently moved to Nicaragua in 1998, I wasn’t speaking no fancy languages like Spanish, so Phil helped keep me sane, as we scuttled back and forth between Nica and Honduras. He’s been a psychological and spiritual Drew Estate booster from our beginnings.”

Now Zanghi is a booster for his own portfolio of cigars, bolstered by Drew Estate’s extensive distribution network. Along with the Nicaraguan-wrapped Habano and the Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped Maduro, the Connecticut Shade-wrapped Daybreak is one of three lines in Debonaire’s Ultra Premium collection. It debuted in November and is “the first Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade-wrapped cigar exclusively sold through Drew Diplomat Retailers as part of the Drew Estate portfolio.”

Six sizes are available in the $8.74 to $13.25 price range: Corona (6 x 46), Belicoso (6 x 54), First Degree (4 x 44), Robusto (5 x 50), Sagita-Petite Lancero (5.5 x 38), and Toro (6 x 50). According to Debonaire and Drew Estate, the blend is smooth and tastes of spice, earth, nuts, and sweetness.

I tried a handful of Toros to see how this vitola stacks up. For starters, the appearance is impressive. Underneath the large band of gold, black, and brown is a clean, golden wrapper with tight seams and minimal veins. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw, and the faint pre-light notes at the foot remind me of honey and hay.

In my book, a good Connecticut Shade cigar has ample creaminess, nuttiness, and a little spice, with (hopefully) some interesting background notes to add complexity. The poor cigars in this class tend to be overly dry, papery, bland, and sometimes medicinal. Fortunately, at the outset, the Daybreak Toro is in the former category. Flavors range from creamy cashew and lightly roasted coffee to white pepper and almond butter. There’s also some cinnamon in the background of the mild- to medium-bodied profile.

After the first third, the flavor settles into the decidedly mild corner of the spectrum with a noticeable drop in both spice and taste. Here, the flavor is smooth and buttery with a dry, oaky character. But it also verges on being too mild and flat. So I find myself hoping for a reprise of the nuttiness and complexity of the introduction.

Fortunately, the anticipated reappearance of the balance, body, and complexity from the first third comes shortly after the midway point and, for the most part, sticks around until the end.

Construction is outstanding throughout, as one should expect from a $13 cigar. The burn line is straight, the ash holds well, the draw is easy, and the smoke production is voluminous.

This is a challenging cigar to review. It has flashes of brilliance, periods of dullness, and a high price tag. In the end, I smoked three Debonaire Daybreak Toros before rendering my verdict of three stogies out of five.

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Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina Bronze Label Robusto

23 Apr 2018

The new La Palina Bronze Label made the journey from a 2017 limited edition to a 2018 regular line without missing a beat, though it did give up the foot band that previously identified it as an exclusive for Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA) shops.

The line also stands out among La Palina offerings for its strong Honduran profile. Not only does it feature a Honduran Habano wrapper, Honduran binder, and a mix of Nicaraguan and Honduran filler, but the Bronze Label is rolled at El Paraíso, a large factory near the border with Nicaragua.

Those roots are evident from the start, with the wrapper giving off a nutty aroma often associated with Honduran tobacco. The cap is deep and nicely applied, allowing for a smooth cut.

The cigar’s strength is in the medium range, and it presents an interesting, enjoyable experience. It kicks off with a tangy citrus taste that quickly mingles with some woody notes. As it burns down, there’s a bit of spice, likely from the Nicaraguan filler, and notes of cedar at different points.

I smoked several in the Robusto size, a 5.5-inch stick with a ring gauge of 50. Construction and performance were excellent in each one.

The line now includes two other sizes: the original TAA Toro (6.5 x 52) and a Gordo (6 x 60). The Robusto costs $8.99.

The Bronze Label is another mark in the evolution of Bill Paley’s resurrection of his grandfather’s 19th-century La Palina cigar company. The new operation began in 2010 with an ultra-high end—and high dollar—cigar rolled for Paley by Graycliff in the Bahamas.

The boutique brand has continued to expand, using other factories and becoming a strong presence on cigar retailers’ shelves.

I recommend you give the Bronze Label a shot. While the profile isn’t one I’d want to smoke all the time, it offers a pleasant, enticing smoke that seems to get better with each cigar. As such, I rate the La Palina Bronze Label Robusto a strong four stogies out of five.

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George E

photo credit: La Palina / Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados (Cuban)

19 Apr 2018

The premise of Habanos’ new Añejados line, first introduced in 2015, is simple: Cuban cigars aged for at least five years in their box before being released. The appeal is obvious, too.

Cuba’s national cigar maker has a reputation for distributing cigars that, even if not obviously under-aged, benefited from extended post-purchase aging. Now, rather than age the cigars yourself, you can pay a premium for cigars with five to eight years of age.

The Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados was introduced in early 2016, along with the Partagás Corona Gorda Añejados. (In 2015, the original Añejados offerings consisted of a Romeo y Julieta Píramides and the Montecristo Churchill.)

The Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados is a new size (5 x 48) for the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey lineup. I purchased two samples for about 18 euros each, including taxes.

The cigar features solid construction despite it’s slightly spongy touch, a frequent characteristic of Cuban cigars. But combustion is excellent, with a open draw, even burn, and solid ash.

The dominant flavors include balanced cedar and café au lait. There’s also hickory notes along with subtle clove, especially towards the second half of the cigar.

This is a good Cuban cigar, with medium-bodied flavors, though it’m not sure it is far better than a standard Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey that has a year or two of age.

Ultimately, you pay a premium for an assurance of a cigar that isn’t underaged, but the balanced, rich flavors of Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados still earns it a very solid rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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Patrick S

photo credit: Habanos/Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Fable Fourth Prime Sapta

16 Apr 2018

Back in October, I reviewed the Fable Fourth Prime Mersenne (5.25 x 56), an intense, flavorful cigar that’s a highly enjoyable experience. I made it a point to try other sizes in the blend. Next up is the gran toro-sized Sapta (6.25 x 54), which runs about $11 (not including horrid taxes here in Chicago).

For the uninitiated, Fable comes from RoMa Craft’s home factory in Estelí, Nicaragua: Fabrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A. The brand debuted in early 2016 and is made for owners Sean Kremenetski and Mitul Shah.

Fourth Prime is Fable’s inaugural release. (There is only one other line listed on Fable’s website, Fourth Prime Limited Production; but, again, the brand has only been around for about two years, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a small portfolio, especially if that portfolio is really solid.) The line pays homage to “the story of the number seven and the significance it holds in our world.”

Fourth Prime is described as “medium to full strength” with “full flavor” and “full aroma.” It is available in four sizes: Sapta (6.25 x 54), Mi (5.75 x 46), Doc (4.25 x 52), and Mersenne (5.25 x 56). The recipe includes a dark Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The name “Sapta” is “derived from the Indian cultural term Saptarisi, or Sapta Rishi, meaning ‘Seven Sages’—prominent religious figures that parallel the traditional saints of mainstream religion. This size has a personal connection to Mitul Shah through his roots in Indian culture, religion, and tradition.”

Like Mersenne, Sapta is toothy and textured yet devoid of anything but the slimmest of veins. It is rectangle-pressed and fairly firm to the touch. Despite that firmness, though, the flattened cap clips easily to reveal an ultra-smooth cold draw.

Unlike Mersenne, which starts full-bodied, full-strength, and spice-forward with a meaty texture, Sapta is more airy, almost marshmallow-y, in texture. It tastes of nougat, cream, dark chocolate, and coffee bean. There is little spice or heat. This makes it possible for the aforementioned flavors to shine through in a balanced, harmonious way.

My comments about the construction of Mersenne can be repeated verbatim for Sapta: “The combustion properties are impeccable, as one would expect from NicaSueño. The burn line is perfect, the white ash holds well off the foot, the draw is super-clear, and the smoke production is ridiculously voluminous.”

The key differentiation between these sizes is the thick meatiness and grittiness of the Mersenne profile. Sapta is lighter, sweeter, airier, and—in my option, at least—more complex, better balanced, and more enjoyable. I recommend the Fable Fourth Prime Sapta highly and award it 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: 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