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Cigar Review: Paul Garmirian Gourmet III Short Robusto

18 Aug

A rarity among today’s manufacturers, PG Cigars maintains a singular, unwavering mission: to blend and age classic-tasting cigars to meet the most discriminating of palates. That’s what they’ve been doing since the company launched in 1990. And, if you peruse our reviews archive—which includes full reviews of over a dozen PG smokes—you’ll see my colleagues and I agree PG executes on its mission exceptionally well.

PG’s dedication to traditionalism and disdain for slick marketing and gimmickry—documented in our Cigar Insider with Paul and Kevork Garmirian 12 years ago—hasn’t prevented this McLean, Virginia-based boutique from launching new lines from time to time. Such was the case when, in 2005, they celebrated their debut with a 15th Anniversary. Five and ten years later, respectively, 20th and 25th Anniversary lines would appear. All of these cigars were (and are) wonderful.

Another five years has passed, and that means another anniversary celebration is in order. That’s good news for anyone who enjoys fine cigars. This time, though, rather than simply calling the new line “30th Anniversary,” they’ve adopted the “Gourmet Series III” name. When asked why, Kevork told me the recipe is a combination of the Gourmet Series and the 25th Anniversary. “The blend was so smooth, balanced, and well-rounded, I thought it belonged as a part of the Gourmet Series,” he said.

The Garmirians crafted this cigar in partnership with master blender Eladio Diaz. It is not a limited edition, but rather a permanent addition to the PG portfolio. The recipe includes an Ecuadorian wrapper around Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. Three sizes are available, each packaged in boxes of 25: Connoisseur (6 x 52, $17.90), Short Robusto (4.5 x 52, $15.90), and Bombones Extra (3.5 x 46, $13). The line officially launched July 10.

Some cigars have the kind of pungent, unmistakable pre-light aroma that ensures a memorable experience is to follow. This is one of them. I smoked several Short Robustos for this review, and each had a wonderful fragrance at the foot that I can best describe as intense earthy mustiness. Other attributes that help this cigar make a good first impression include a smooth, oily wrapper, a well-executed cap, and a consistently firm packing of tobacco with no soft spots. The secondary band denoting “30th” (flanked by the years 1990 and 2020) is the singular indication this is Gourmet Series III. The original Gourmet Series, released in 1990, has no secondary band. Neither does Gourmet Series II, which offered more strength and a nuttier profile. The Series III is “richer yet, made available by access to darker and oilier wrappers,” according to PG. It has a “rich, full flavor” with a “medium to full body.”

After an even light is established, the Short Robusto kicks off with an as-advertised medium- to full-bodied profile of musty earth, dry oak, creamy cashew, espresso, and a bit of red pepper spice. Like the 25th Anniversary, the texture is bready, and our previous description of “raisin bread” for that wonderful cigar seems applicable here, too.

There are few changes from light to nub. That said, the Short Robusto’s consistency is not a liability since the core flavors are so impeccably balanced, harmonious, and interesting. The sweetness of the raisin bread pairs well off the spiciness of the espresso and cayenne notes. The creaminess of the cashew adds depth to the dryness of the oak. And all the while that distinctive musty, earthy note that’s so prevalent across the best PG cigars is there to remind you why you’ve paid nearly $16.

The physical attributes are outstanding, as well. Expect a straight burn, smooth draw, firm ash, and generous smoke production.

In all, the Gourmet III is an exceptionally well done blend—perhaps one of the best ever from PG, which is saying an awful lot. And I think the Short Robusto is the showcase of the line. The Connoisseur is a bit milder, and the Bombones Extra is a bit stronger. While both are great cigars, the Short Robusto hits the Goldilocks Zone. This one is just right in all the right ways, and I’d be remiss without awarding it a rare and heralded five stogies out of five rating.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five stogie-rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: Eighteen Things Every Cigar Smoker Should Do In Their Lifetime

5 Nov

[We’ve updated an article from a few years ago that was titled: “Sixteen Things Every Cigar Smoker Should Do In Their Lifetime.”]

Cigar smokers can live a long time. Just ask Richard Overton, a WWII veteran who lived to be 112 and smoked dozens of cigars a day. That gives you plenty of time to do lots of amazing things.

To help out, we brainstormed a list of eighteen cigar-related activities every cigar smoker should accomplish in their lifetime:

1. Smoke a cigar in a rental car. (There may be a cleaning fee involved.)

2. Make your own cigar blend, then smoke it. (Be prepared for it not to be very good, but that isn’t the point.)

3. Smoke a pre-embargo Cuban. (No, cigars made with a portion of pre-embargo Cuban tobacco don’t count.)

4. Visit a cigar factory abroad. (And a tobacco field while you are there.)

5. Smoke two cigars at once. (It’s actually a good way to develop your palate.)

6. Visit Cuba. (It’s easier than you think.)

7. Give someone their first cigar. (Maybe on their 18th birthday?)

8. Enjoy a cigar and drink at Casa Fuente in Las Vegas. (Try the Don Carlos Caipirinha.)

9. Buy the cigar you’ve always wanted to smoke, no matter the price. (Spend $30, $50, $100, or more.)

10. Light up a cigar someplace you shouldn’t. (Act shocked when you are told you can’t enjoy your cigar there.)

11. Pair Pappy Van Winkle bourbon with your favorite cigar. (Bourbon that costs $100 an ounce must be amazing, right?)

12. Smoke a cigar on the beach. Either early morning after an AM surf or camping out on the beach late at night, it’s the perfect place.

13. Buy a friend “It’s a boy/girl” cigars to celebrate a birth. (Remind the new dad, he should give them out, not smoke them all.)

14. Visit Calle Ocho in Little Havana. (It’s kinda like Cuba, but still in America.)

15. Wake up early to read the newspaper with a cigar and coffee. (Your local paper, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Enquirer… it doesn’t matter.)

16. Smoke cigars with friends around a bonfire you made. (Bonus points if you chopped the wood for the bonfire yourself.)

17. Light up a celebratory cigar when your favorite team wins the championship. (Hopefully you aren’t a Browns fan.)

18. Smoke with your dad or son. There’s nothing quite like generational bonding over a premium cigar.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Seinfeld

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Cigar Industry Asks for Warning Label Delays, NY Tax Hike Fails, Bourbon in the Mail, and More

6 Apr

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 573rd in the series.

1) On the heels of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announcing its intent to seek comments about reconsidering existing regulations of premium cigars, the cigar industry is now seeking to eliminate FDA warning label requirements, which are scheduled to go in effect on August 10. The Cigar Association of America, Cigar Rights of America, and International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association have asked U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta (pictured at right) to delay the new warning label rules while the FDA reconsiders its position. The trade groups are hopeful Judge Mehta will be consistent with his statement from December hearings in this case when he said, “I guess I just have a real problem, it seems to me, with a government agency telling an entire industry [to] spend millions of dollars to satisfy a regulation that we’re not sure is going to be on the books a year from now or two years from now.” At issue are larger warning labels on cigar boxes, and rules about where these labels would need to be placed. As we wrote last week, simply considering a premium cigar exemption, of course, doesn’t guarantee that the FDA will ultimately adopt one. The FDA notably considered and rejected such an exemption in its original regulation of cigars. However, the willingness of the new FDA leadership to spend time and resources considering rolling back its regulations is a good sign for those who make, sell, and enjoy cigars.

2) Cigar consumers and retailers in New York can breathe a sigh of relief. The final version of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 budget does not include a proposed cigar tax hike. “While the original version of the budget did not raise the tax percentage of cigars, which is currently 75 percent of the wholesale price, it removed an ‘industry standard adjustment ratio’ clause that allows retailers to charge a much lower rate of 28.5 percent,” reports Cigar Aficionado. “The section of the original 2018–2019 Executive Budget proposal that pertained to wholesale tobacco prices was intentionally omitted from a subsequent version published on March 13 and did not reappear in what would become the final version…”

3) Kentucky recently passed HB400, a law which, for the first time, and in certain circumstances, allows the state’s famous bourbon distilleries, along with state wineries, to ship bourbon directly to consumers outside the state.  The law allows those who visit the state’s distilleries in person to ship whiskey to their home state, depending on their local laws.

4) Inside the Industry: RoMa Craft is restarting production of Neanderthal following a shortage of adequately aged Mexican San Andrés Ligero Capa. According to RoMa Craft’s Skip Martin, current back-orders of the line will begin being filled in late 2018.

5) From the Archives: Rarely are there new types of cigar tobacco, but Fuma Em Corda is one. As Ernest Gocaj of General Cigar explained in an interview last year: “Once the tobacco turns brown, the natives make it into a rope and twist it regularly to expel the juices of the tobacco. At this time, ammonia is released and the flavor is softened. In other words, the harshness is removed from the leaf. Everything is done in sunlight. The tobacco becomes very pure and refined through this method.”

6) Deal of the Week: Here are over 80 deals, including cigars from Ashton, Oliva, Tatuaje, Rocky Patel, Padrón, Drew Estate, Davidoff, Cohiba, Crowned Heads, RoMa Craft, and more. Free shipping is included on any purchase. If you really want to stock up, add promo code “GBP20D” at checkout to knock $20 off an order of $150 or more.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Villiger Goes Full-Bodied, Tequila Barrel-Aged Scotch, and More

26 Jan

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 564th in the series.

1) Villiger has announced its first full-bodied cigar. La Vencedora, Spanish for “the victor,” is a Nicaraguan puro made at the Joya de Nicaragua factory in Estelí. The line is intended as a “follow-up blend” to the Ecuadorian-wrapped La Flor de Ynclan, which debuted last year. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use our 130 years of experience to create what I feel is a very special cigar in the Villiger La Vencedora,” said Heinrich Villiger, chairman of the Switzerland-based company. Rene Castañeda, president of Villiger Cigars North America, added, “We as a team feel that the Villiger La Vencedora is a palate-pleasing, full-bodied, yet elegant cigar, that will satisfy the cigar connoisseur as well as the casual smoker.” The three La Vencedora sizes—Churchill, Robusto, and Toro—will retail in the $9-10 range.

2) Diageo, the London-based alcoholic beverages multinational, last year formed a “secret task force” aimed at seeking a break from longstanding scotch production laws and traditions in an effort to “arrest scotch’s declining market share,” according to the Wall Street Journal. With Irish, Japanese, Canadian, and U.S. whiskey makers cutting into scotch’s global market share, Diageo—which owns the Johnnie Walker, Talisker, Lagavulin, and Caol Ila scotch brands, just to name a few—is trying to think outside the box. “One idea was to finish aging scotch in old tequila barrels instead of the sherry, cognac, or port casks traditionally used. Another was to create a ‘scotch whisky infusion,’ a new category of flavored or low-alcohol blends sold under existing scotch brands.” But change is easier said than done. “Scotch watchers say Diageo will face stiff opposition to any rule changes—something its task force acknowledges… One of the biggest obstacles is the SWA, an Edinburgh-based trade body that has long interpreted the rules and policed scotch making.”

3) Inside the Industry: Edward Simon has been named the new leader of global marketing and innovation at Oettinger Davidoff AG. He takes over the role from Charles Awad, who is leaving the Switzerland-based company. The move is part of a broader organizational and personnel shakeup to align Davidoff’s business processes “with the changing market conditions.” According to a press release, “a corresponding transformation programme, known as ‘Way Forward,’ was initiated at the beginning of this year under the leadership of CEO Beat Hauenstein.”

4) From the Archives: Seven years ago we started our interview of A.J. Fernandez by noting: “A.J. Fernandez may be the best cigar maker you haven’t heard of. But not for long.” Read the whole interview here.

5) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, hot sauce kits, wine, workout gear, etc…) delivered for just $45. Of note is the “Churchill” box, which features four cigars, an ashtray made of reclaimed wood, an odor-eating candle, cedar spills, and a cutter. Once you are signed up, there is no obligation; you can skip or purchase each month. Sign up here in the next five days to be eligible for the February box.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Villiger Cigars

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: BLTC Ships Boondock Saint, Drew Estate Releases Cuadrado, and More

25 Aug

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 544th in the series.

1) Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) has announced the shipment of a new cigar called Boondock Saint. Made at BLTC’s Fabrica Oveja Negra factory in Nicaragua, Boondock Saint sports a dark Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Both sizes—Corona Larga (6.25 x 46) and Robusto (5.25 x 50)—will be sold for $10 apiece at select BLTC retailers and packaged in 20-count boxes. “The Boondock Saint is a perfect example of a balanced cigar,” said BLTC creator James Brown. “The profile is rich, complex, and bold with tons of subtle flavors. The cigar is both strong and refined with a very elegant finish.” Boondock Saint is a product of the BLK WKS project, “an expression of art showcasing the talent, technique, and tobacco behind [the] boutique cigar factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra.” Speaking of Fabrica Oveja Negra, the facility is moving to a larger, freestanding space at the south entrance of Estelí that will include a large production area, tobacco storage facility, state-of-the-art aging room, retail store, cigar lounge, and exhibition space.

2) Looking for Umbagog? Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust took to Facebook to explain the longfiller cigar that’s comprised to tobacco unworthy of Mi Querida will start reappearing at retailers next month. “Beginning in September, we will start fulfilling backorders to our retailers and, by mid-October, we will have shipped every backorder on almost all the sizes. Backorders will be fulfilled in the order in which they were placed,” he said. “If you want to buy [this] cigar, then this will be the time to do so as it is unlikely we will be importing any significant quantities until very late 2017/early 2018.”

3) Drew Estate has released a new Cuadrado format in its Undercrown Maduro (formerly just Undercrown) and Herrera Estelí for JR Cigars and Casa de Montecristo. Both are available in ten-count soft packs. Cuadrado measures 6.5 inches long with a ring gauge of 44. “One of my favorite vitolas I have blended at Drew Estate is the Norteno lonsdale because of how the smoke hits your palate, so we re-worked the blend of Undercrown Maduro, in this box press format using my experience of blending with Mexican San Andres wrapper with the Norteno,” said Drew Estate master blender Willy Herrera. “The Herrera Estelí Cuadrado shines in this size. Unlike my other exclusives, which feature different blends of the Herrera Estelí, this one remains exactly the same as the original just in the box-pressed lonsdale format. It’s just damn good.” The Undercrown Maduro Cuadrado 10-pack retails for $74; Herrera Estelí Cuadrado is $105.50 for a 10-pack.

4) The worldwide launch of the three inaugural products from John Drew Brands—Brixton Mash Destroyer (55% bourbon, 45% rum), Dove Tale Rum, and John Drew Rye—takes place today in Chicago at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincoln Park. By 4 PM Central, every Binny’s location will have the products available. Founded in 2015, John Drew Brands bills itself as “an authentic lifestyle company initially focused on the alcohol beverage category.”

5) Inside the IndustryCigar Insider‘s annual survey of retailers asks owners from 225 stores nationwide which cigars are their best-sellers and hottest brands. Fuente and Padrón took the top spots. Retailers also cited Davidoff, Romeo y Julieta, and Rocky Patel as rounding out the top five best-sellers.

6) From the Archives: How many gadgets can manufacturers come up with to complicate the simple act of smoking? A lot. In this article from 2007, we explored many not-so-essential contrivances and contraptions that have been pushed in the cigar world.

7) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, shaving kits, wine, workout gear, coffee kits, cigars, and more) delivered for just $45. You can skip or purchase every month. Sign up here to get the September shipment.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: BLTC

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Trump Targets Regulations, Vegas Cigar Scene, Legal Brief Against FDA Cigar Rule, and More

3 Mar

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 520th in the series.

Michael-Frey

1) An interview with Las Vegas cigar impresario Michael Frey explores how his endeavors evolved Sin City’s cigar scene from a handful of small shops along the Strip to the home of destination cigar locales including Casa Fuente, Rhumbar, and the recently opened Montecristo Cigar Bar at Caesars Palace. He also talks about his latest project, a renovation of his Cigarbox shop just off the Strip, which includes an updated lounge and bar.

2) In his first month in office, President Trump has taken a critical pose towards new agency regulations passed during the Obama years and an executive order demanding agencies evaluate their rules, which would include the FDA’s cigar regulation. “The sweeping order directs every federal agency to establish a task force to ensure each has a team to research all regulations and take aim at those deemed burdensome to the U.S. economy and designate regulatory reform officers within 60 days and must report on the progress within 90 days… The order says agencies should seek to repeal regulations that ‘inhibit job creation,’ are ‘ineffective,’ impose costs that exceed benefits, or ‘create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory initiatives and policies.'”

3) The Cause of Action Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group committed to “ensuring that government decision-making is open, honest, and fair,” filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief backing the DC Circuit federal lawsuit filed by cigar trade groups challenging the FDA’s cigar rules that went into effect last August. “Common sense appears to be dead at the FDA,” CoA spokesman Patrick Massari said in a statement. The brief notes: “The sheer costs of FDA’s regulation will be so high that smaller, family-owned businesses will no longer be able to comply. The tradition of premium, hand-rolled cigars handed down by generations will turn into a corporate mill. This, as detailed above, will lead to higher prices, reduced choice and quality, and the curtailment of innovation in the market. The FDA’s cynical nod to cost-benefit analysis fails for many reasons, including its ‘tunnel vision’ and inability to consider the cost to consumers, producers, and retailers.”

4) Inside the Industry: Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s Steve Saka announced this week that two of his cigars will be arriving soon at retailers across the country. Umbagog has already been released in very limited numbers but will be arriving in larger numbers in the second week this month. Umbagog is a more affordable cigar using a Broadleaf wrapper that doesn’t make the grade for Mi Querida. A week later, Muestra de Saka Exclusivo (6 x 52) will be shipping to over 120 retailers. Muestra de Saka is a Nicaraguan puro featuring tobacco from all four Nicaraguan growing regions: Jalapa, Condega, Ometepe, and Estelí.

5) From the Archives: Our focus at StogieGuys.com is (obviously) cigars, but many cigar smokers also enjoy pipes. If you are looking for an introduction to pipes, check out this interview with Brian Levine of the Pipes Magazine Radio Show. He discusses how the show came about, his favorite pipes, and some tips for a beginner starting to explore the sometimes intimidating world of pipes and pipe tobacco.

6) Deal of the Week: We recommend Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items delivered to your door for just $45. Available boxes include fine bar accessories, shaving kits, wine, workout gear, coffee kits, and more. You can skip or purchase every month. Sign up today and you’ll be able to get the March shipment.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Las Vegas Weekly

Cigar Review: Illusione 88

2 Jan

illusione-88

This is the cigar that got the Illusione brand off the ground. In 2004, Dion Giolito—today well-known throughout the industry for his height, unique hairstyle, obsession with conspiracy theories, and cigar blending abilities—opened a cigar shop in Reno. Shortly thereafter, with assistance from Pete Johnson of Tatuaje fame, he bought 50 boxes of robustos that would become his house blend. He called the cigar “88,” commemorating the year he moved to Nevada, and named the brand Illusione.

illusione“Illusione sounded like an inside secret,” Giolito recently told Cigar Aficionado. “An indie cigar for people part of an inner circle. Plus, the word Illusione sounded nice. Very European.” Today, all the cigars in the original Illusione lineup (also known as Original Documents) have unique names that refer to Giolito’s faith, a significant year in his life, or his favorite numbers at the craps table.

Illusione debuted at the 2006 industry trade show within the Tatuaje booth. At the time, the cigars were crafted in Honduras at the Raices Cubanas factory; production has since moved to the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where the five-pack of 88s I smoked for this review were made.

This well-made robusto (5 x 52) retails for about $8 and is notably heavy in the hand due to its tight packing of Nicaraguan tobaccos. At first glance, the cigar has a rustic appeal, though the quality is evident. The clean, milk chocolate-colored wrapper has tight seams, minimal veins, and a fine, toothy surface. There is a floral pre-light scent, and the triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw. The simple, thin, black and white ring band is very loosely applied; it can be slipped off the cigar easily.

Once an even light is established, an oily, rich, medium-bodied taste emerges with a core of dry wood, cinnamon, white pepper, cocoa powder, and traces of leather. The finish is characterized by a floral sweetness, and the texture is simultaneously airy and a bit sandy. After a half inch or so, a delightful creamy nuttiness comes to the fore. Coffee and mint join in around the midway mark. The finale reminds me of oily coffee beans with a gentle cayenne heat.

The 88’s combustion properties are imperfect but not troublesome. Each of my five samples required some touch-ups along the way to stay lit and burning evenly. The gray ash is flaky, yet it manages to hold well off the foot. Smoke production is above average.

We interviewed Giolito in 2008, when Illusione was still young. Then, he told us the greatest challenge in creating a brand was “dealing with all of the liars. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this side of the business it’s that everybody lies—farmers, factory owners, managers, etc. My biggest challenge has been to get my ideals and approach across to these guys without them cutting corners every time the cat’s away. Sometimes the leaf you choose is mysteriously not the leaf that goes into the cigar. I’ve refused entire orders because of one component. I need to be able to look someone in the eye when they ask me what my favorite cigar is and tell them it’s the one I make. I don’t want to be the guy that makes a cigar and smokes someone else’s. There are a lot of those guys out there.”

While a lot has changed since 2008, Giolito’s passion for excellence still comes through in the 88. This is a flavorful, satisfying, well-balanced robusto, and I think Illusione’s trademark floral sweetness comes through particularly well in this format. The Illusione 88 earns a very respectable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys