Cigar Review: Foundry Time Flies 550

15 Feb 2017

foundry-timeflies

When large companies find themselves under assault from smaller operations with innovative products, the response is often to try to replicate what’s leading the attack.

Time FliesThink of Ford’s Pinto to compete with smaller foreign imports, or MillerCoors’ Blue Moon reaction to craft beer brewers, or any one of many similar situations.

In the cigar world, a prime example is General Cigar’s Foundry Tobacco Co. The division was created in 2012 under the now-departed Michael Giannini, who’d come to General after Swedish Match bought Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s successful boutique brand that made La Gloria Cubana.

Foundry has featured nearly every card in the boutique deck: exotic packaging, silly and obscure brand names, baroque themes, limited editions, elaborate back stories about the tobaccos, etc. Additionally, General Cigar has moved some of its historic, if under-appreciated, brands like Bolivar, Ramón Allones,  and Temple Hall under the Foundry umbrella.

With Time Flies, Foundry joined in the collaboration trend. This four-size line, introduced at the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show, was created by Giannini and A.J. Fernandez and rolled at Fernandez’s factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

With all that surrounds Time Flies—skulls, wild colors, aphorisms on the band, a $35,000 humidor—you’d be forgiven for assuming the line is just another gimmicky creation. In this case, though, I believe you’d be wrong. The half-dozen Time Flies robustos I’ve smoked are strong, satisfying cigars.

The regular release Time Flies smokes feature an Ecuadorian Habano 2000 wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler. MSRP on the 550 robusto (5 x 50) is $7.50, and the most expensive in the line is the 660 at $9. (There’s also a limited edition with a Sumatra wrapper, which I haven’t tried.)

The opening notes of the cigar are hot pepper, which remind me of some of Don José “Pepin” Garcia’s early creations. The volume lowers about an inch in, which is where you begin to pick up woody notes and dark coffee.

At the halfway point, the pepper reemerges and mingles with some cedar. Toward the final third, there’s some sweetness as well.

I found the overall strength to be on the higher end of medium, though it ramps up a bit in the second half. The finish is fairly light. Construction, burn, and draw are excellent, as is the smoke production.

All in all, I enjoyed Time Flies and rate it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Foundry Cigars/Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Commentary: Older and (Somewhat) Wiser, At Least When it Comes to Cigars

13 Feb 2017

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Over the course of twelve years of serious cigar smoking, I’ve learned a thing or two. True, there’s still so much more cigar knowledge to absorb—that’s one of the beautiful things about this complex, engrossing hobby—but I’ve come a long, long way since my early days as a young brother of the leaf.

I was thinking about this a week ago today, on my 34th birthday. Birthdays are a natural time for reflection, a chance to take stock in what has been accomplished, what is yet to be achieved, and, of course, lessons learned.

My cigar development—and the development of any new cigar smoker, I think—can be broken down into a few different categories of knowledge. First is gaining an understanding of your own palate. What you like, what you don’t like, and which cigars tend to satisfy you the best under different circumstances. This category is incredibly personal. There are no right or wrong answers, and your palate’s preferences may be entirely unique to you. This is why the phrase, “The best cigar in the world is the cigar you like the best,” rings true.

The second category concerns learning how to properly evaluate and taste a cigar. While the outcome of any evaluation might be completely subjective (for reasons mentioned in the preceding paragraph), there are a few criteria that, more or less, are universally applied. Think broad standards for characteristics like appearance, flavor, aroma, balance, burn, draw, smoke production, etc. For any one of these—like flavor, for example—there might be a number of tools that can be employed to assist with a thorough examination, like a tasting wheel or prevailing cigar literature about flavors commonly found in cigars.

Finally, I tend to lump all other cigar knowledge into a catch-all category for cigar-related tips, ritual know-hows, cultural norms, and other miscellaneous items. Here, you’ll find stuff like how to properly cut a cigar, how to store/age cigars, cigar shop etiquette, etc. This final category, I think, is teeming with misinformation—tidbits that 22-year-old me read or heard, accepted at face value since I didn’t know any better, and have since learned were either incorrect or misleading.

Allow me to throw out a few examples. For instance, ever recall learning that only wooden matches or butane lighters were suitable for lighting a cigar? Something about lighter fluid tainting a cigar’s flavor? Well, I’m going to call bullshit on this one. Not only have I used lighter fluid to ignite a cigar many times without noticing any impact to taste, but I have personally witnessed many of the world’s foremost cigar authorities doing the same. If the occasional use of a gas station-bought Bic lighter is good enough for some of the most admired cigar makers/blenders, then it’s good enough for me.

Here’s another load of crap I was taught early on: “To fix an uneven burn, you can rotate the cigar so the slow-burning part is at the bottom of the cigar. Because a fire needs oxygen to burn, the bottom of the cigar will burn faster (as it has access to more oxygen) than the top. This is also why you should rotate your cigar as you smoke.” I’ve tried this technique thousands of times and can’t say I’ve ever seen it work. If your cigar starts to burn unevenly, just touch it up with your lighter and be done with it. Problem solved.

One last example for you. When I was younger, I used to obsess over monitoring the humidity inside my humidors. I had read 72 percent relative humidity was ideal, and I made every effort to achieve and maintain that level. Then I read 69 percent was best. Then I started to pay attention to a crowd that suggested certain types of cigars aged best at one humidity level, and others required different conditions. Enough already. After much trial and error, I don’t think it matters much. Somewhere between 65 and 72 percent is probably best. These days I just get the 69 percent Boveda packs, throw them in my humidors, and don’t even bother to worry about reading and calibrating the hygrometers anymore.

Am I starting to sound like a bitter old man? Maybe. But I think I’ve been around the block enough to form my own cigar-related opinions, however incorrect they may seem to some.

On that topic, if you disagree with anything above, or if you have other cigar myths you’d like to dispel, please let me know in the comments below. I am eager to continue to learn, and I am excited to see what knowledge I can attain over the next twelve years.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: My Father The Judge Toro

12 Feb 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

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This new offering from My Father Cigars immediately brings back thoughts of the early cigars made by Don José “Pepin” Garcia: opening with a blast of pepper; winding gradually down a bit to a creamy, rich taste; and building in strength along the way. Box-pressed and nearly covered with bands, The Judge, a regular production line, combines the My Father Nicaraguan filler blend with an Ecuadorian Sumatra Oscuro wrapper. At about $12, it’s a bargain.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: My Father Cigars

Quick Smoke: La Aurora 107 Cosecha 2006 Corona Gorda

11 Feb 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Cosecha

This limited edition, introduced last year, is a spinoff of the 107 line that debuted in 2010 to celebrate the storied history of the oldest cigar manufacturer in the Dominican Republic. It sports a Habana-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador around a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The Corona Gorda (6 x 47, $10) is one of three sizes. In addition to solid construction, you’ll find a medium-bodied, well-balanced profile of dried fruit, citrus, sharp cedar spice, and coffee bean. My colleague recently reviewed this same cigar and liked it; I think I enjoyed it a little more.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Temple Hall Estates, Boveda Patents Hold Up, IPCPR Trade Show Floorplan Revealed, and More

10 Feb 2017

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 517th in the series.

Temple Hall

1) Foundry Cigar Company (FTC)—a boutique operation within the General Cigar umbrella that, until recently, was headed up by longtime General veteran Michael Gianni—has announced the new Temple Hall Estates collection. Named for a Jamaican cigar factory that sprung up during World War II, the line sports a Connecticut Shade wrapper, Mexican binder, and proprietary Piloto Cubano filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic. The blend is billed as a “silky, elegant, and flavorful smoke reminiscent of the cigars crafted at Temple Hall under the tutelage of Ramón Cifuentes,” the father of Partagas. “Temple Hall Estates rounds out the Foundry Tobacco Company portfolio by offering a mild, smooth-smoking cigar not previously represented in the FTC Heritage Series, which includes Ramón Allones and Bolivar,” according to a press release. The line’s four sizes will retail in the $6.99 to $8.49 range. The cigars are now shipping to U.S. retailers.

2) Boveda’s cigar humidification patents have survived a legal challenge from Holt’s, a Philadelphia-based retailer with a strong online presence that also owns the Ashton cigar brand. The two patents in question concern the internal solution Boveda uses to regulate moisture, as well as the membrane technology that allows purified vapor in and out of the Boveda packet, according to a representative from Boveda. The challenge was launched in 2015 not long after a four-year distribution arrangement between Ashton and Boveda concluded. Email inquiries into Holt’s were not returned. It is not clear if Holt’s plans to appeal this decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to uphold the patents. Ashton markets the Savoy humidor line, as well as limited humidification devices, leading to speculation that had Holt’s successfully overturned the patents, it would have launched a competing humidification pack using the same technology.

3) Inside the Industry: Looking for a sneak peek preview into the 85th annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show? Here you can see the convention showroom layout, as well as many of the larger booth space assignments. The event takes place July 10-14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The 2017 convention had originally been slated five days later at the Sands Convention Center—site of previous IPCPR Trade Shows—but the location administration cancelled on IPCPR, triggering a cancellation fee (likely because a bigger business opportunity arose on those dates).

4) What’s with celebrity tequila brands? Also, if you were looking for evidence of a  mezcal bubble, here you go: Sammy Hagar and Adam Levine band together for a tequila. Huh?

5) From the Archives: From time to time, we get asked how we’re able to observe and write about many of the more subtle flavors found in a cigar. The answer? It’s mostly a combination of experience and, quite simply, paying close attention. But sometimes there are flavors you wouldn’t notice if it weren’t for the retrohale technique, which is also known as smoking through the nose (since the nose is where most flavor is noticed). Doing so properly is key, as explained in this tip written over a decade ago.

6) Deal of the Week: Here’s a “Winter Sale” that includes many samplers, bundles, and boxes. Exact percentages vary, but numerous items are discounted 40% or more.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: General Cigar

Photo Essay: Water, the Secret Ingredient to a Fine Cigar

8 Feb 2017

Ask any cigar smoker what are the ingredients in a handmade cigar, and the answer will probably be something along the lines of this: 100% tobacco leaves (maybe they’ll also note vegetable glue, a small amount of which is used to attach the wrapper). This is without a doubt true, and let’s hope the FDA agrees, but when it comes to making cigars arguably the most critical ingredient is water, or more specifically moisture.

You don’t have to be an expert in cigars to know humidity matters. A cigar that is too dry loses flavor and burns too hot, while a cigar kept in too much humidity may be bitter, burn poorly, and risks mold in storage.

But the importance of water and moisture starts long before the cigar is rolled or ready to be smoked. Last week, I spent a few days visiting General Cigar’s facilities in the Dominican Republic. (Each of the photographs comes from the visit.)

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I’ve visited cigar factories many times but, by starting this tour on the farm before going to the leaf processing facility and then finally the factory, it drove home the importance of controlling moisture to make an enjoyable final product. From seedling until harvest, of course, a tobacco plant needs water.

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After leaves are primed (removed one leaf at a time, first from the bottom of the plant then, over time, upwards to the top) the work of preparing the tobacco begins. After harvest, green tobacco leaves go into curing barns where the the goal is removing the moisture, as well as the chlorophyll that makes leaves green. (Candela wrappers use a different curing process that locks in the green color.)

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When tobacco enters the curing barn, its moisture content is around 85%. After hanging upside down for four to six weeks (either sewn onto a rope or fastened to a wooden pole), the moisture level drops to around 30%. Some producers will use small fires in the barn to bring down humidity levels in what are generally high humidity tropical climates. At this point, the leaves are ready to be sorted and prepared for fermentation.

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After curing, the tobacco leaves begin to look like the tobacco you’ll find in the cigars in your humidor. It isn’t ready to made into handmade cigars yet, though. The critical next step is fermentation, sometimes referred to as “sweating” the tobacco.

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In fermentation, tobacco “cooks” by being stacked in a way that pressure, along with natural microbes, break down the tobacco and generate heat. Hands (a bunch of four to six leaves) of tobacco leaves are stacked in piles, often as high as six feet, where the middle particularly begins to rise in temperature.

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Temperature is closely monitored. If the tobacco gets too hot (140 °F, perhaps lower depending on the type of leaf) it will overcook. Over time, the tobacco is rotated to ensure even fermentation. By the time fermentation is completed, taste, aroma, and combustion are improved, while the harshness of nicotine, sugar, and ammonia are reduced as proteins breakdown.

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True maduro wrappers, as opposed to those that rely on artificial coloring, come from a longer, more intense fermentation process that creates a darker, richer color. At this point, the tobaccos are ready to be rolled into cigars. That said, some companies will age their tobaccos further (one to three years is not abnormal), the especially wrappers. This can be described as low level fermentation. For select tobaccos, aging in barrels (especially rum barrels) is another common technique to add even more complex and rich flavors.

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Even as cigars are being rolled, proper moisture is key. Wrappers, in particular, are frequently moistened to make them more pliable and durable. Later, after the cigars are bunched and rolled, they go into aging rooms where moisture is again key. In the aging room, cigars release excess ammonia and equalize moisture levels between the filler, binder, and wrapper tobaccos.

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After at least a few weeks in the aging room, cigars are ready to smoke. But, in order to remain ready to smoke weeks later, moisture content must remain stable between 65% and 70% relative humidity throughout shipping to your cigar shop and, eventually, to your home humidor, where Boveda packs or your humidification device of choice keeps humidity stable.

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As you can see, controlling moisture from start to finish may be the single most important aspect to cigar production. The best tobacco without proper curing and fermentation will produce bad cigars. Only time, tobacco, and proper moisture control can produce a fine cigar.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Going to the Go-To

6 Feb 2017

Perdomo Lot 23

Get a group of passionate cigar smokers together, and it won’t be long before someone starts talking about an incredible cigar they had.

The conversation will then pick up, and you’ll likely hear about some limited edition Davidoff, an aged Cuban Montecristo No. 2, or a rare Padrón.

What you probably won’t hear is anyone singing the praises of their regular go-to selection (unless you’re the sort for whom Opus is just a daily cigar). For most of us, though, the go-to cigar may not be flashy, but it’s the one we smoke more than any other.

When I refer to a go-to cigar, I’m thinking of what you reach for when you don’t really have anything specific in mind, but want an experience you know you’ll enjoy. It’s the cigar you almost always have on hand and are willing to share, secure in the knowledge that it will satisfy just about anyone.

I have two cigars that fall into this category, both traditionally sized (5 x 50) robustos: the regular Perdomo Lot 23 Natural, and the original Old Henry.

Some long-time StogieGuys.com readers (with excellent memories) may recall that my first encounter with the Lot 23, a Toro that time, was less than stellar. But some years later I revisited the line and the Robusto made me a believer.

It’s not an expensive cigar. A box of 20 is around $90, and you’ll often spot price reductions online for five-packs and boxes. Construction and performance are consistent. It’s medium in strength with some spice, some sweetness, and a satisfying finish.

Old Henry is a house blend for Holt’s Cigar Co. rolled at the My Father Cigars factory in Nicaragua. A StogieGuys.com colleague reviewed the Robusto in 2008, and the following year I reviewed the Corona. At that point, I favored the Corona marginally over the Robusto, and I’ve since gone back and forth as to which is my favorite.

Like Lot 23, Old Henry is modestly priced. The Robusto comes in a cardboard box of 25 for about $100; the corona runs about $5 less. In addition, Holt’s almost always offers some sort of swag—an extra five-pack, a lighter, an ashtray—with a box purchase.

I try to keep a box of one or the other—sometimes both—in my humidor. And they often don’t last long.

George E

photo credit: Perdomo