Cigar Review: Charter Oak Maduro Toro

12 Aug 2019

Last month I reviewed the Charter Oak CT Shade, Nicholas Melillo’s attempt at an affordably priced cigar for any time of day. I found it to have a pleasant, straightforward, mild- to medium-bodied profile of cream, white pepper, peanut, and café au lait. The “unchanging, unpretentious” taste, however, tends to overstay its welcome, especially in the large Grande (6 x 60) format. So I settled on an OK score of three stogies out of five and decided I needed to try some of the other sizes.

Before I do that, though, today I am reviewing the Maduro version of Charter Oak. Like the CT Shade, it honors Melillo’s home state of Connecticut. It is named for The Charter Oak, an “unusually large white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut… from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856,” reads a Wikipedia article. “According to tradition, Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the hollow of the tree to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak became a symbol of American independence and is commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter.”

The Foundation Cigar Co. website provides more color: “Charter Oak cigars hail from the same fertile valley in Connecticut that native son and master blender… Nick Melillo was born and raised. [They] feature some of the most prized and sought-after Cuban-seed leaf varieties from the exquisite Estelí and Jalapa regions of Nicaragua.”

The filler may be Nicaraguan, and the binder Habano, but the centerpiece of the blend—the wrapper—is a dark, mottled Connecticut Broadleaf (Charter Oak CT Shade, as you might have guessed, has a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper; it swaps the Habano binder for Sumatra). Five Maduro sizes are available, all made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua: Toro (6 x 52), Grande (6 x 60), Lonsdale (6.25 x 46), Petit Corona (4.25 x 42), and Rothschild (4.25 x 50).

The Toro retails for $5.50, which makes it wonderfully affordable. From looks alone, though, you wouldn’t guess this is a value-oriented smoke. The closed foot, seamless wrapper, and handsome cap suggest a higher price point. One exception is the band; while attractive in color and design, it has no raised lettering and a minimalist approach.

After toasting the closed foot and establishing an even burn, pre-light notes of cocoa powder transition to a taste of earth, leather, black coffee, and warm tobacco. The draw is open, and there’s ample black pepper spice on the finish. The texture is gritty and dry. There’s a cherry-like sweetness on the retrohale.

That sweetness comes and goes as the Toro winds its way down, but the other core flavors remain consistent from light to nub. All the while the construction does just fine. The burn isn’t perfect, but it also doesn’t require any touch-ups to stay even. The ash holds pretty well. The draw is smooth. And the smoke production is solid.

Whereas I grew tried of the CT Shade Grande due to the combined effect of an unwavering, simplistic taste and large, thick format, the Maduro Toro is more interesting and more appropriately sized. For the money, it’s a rather nice value. I’d absolutely keep a stash of these on hand for the golf course or a barbecue. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Avo Limited Edition 2013 The Dominant 13th

11 Aug 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I came across this cigar recently at a local shop and immediately picked it up. While I couldn’t recall details, I did remember thoroughly enjoying one shortly after its release about six years ago. Age has done nothing but improve the Dominant 13th. The beautiful Ecuadorian Habano 2000 wrapper covers a Dominican binder and a variety of Dominican filler leaves and tobacco from Peru. The complex, toro-sized (6 x 52) blend may have lost a bit of strength, but it’s incredibly smooth. Flavors, ranging from black pepper to a subtle sweetness, are balanced and enticing. If you spot a Dominant 13th, don’t hesitate to light up.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Davidoff of Geneva

Quick Smoke: Aquitaine Knuckle Dragger

9 Aug 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

This stellar creation from RoMa Craft Tobac pairs excellently with a serving of wheated bourbon, a comfortable chair on a summer porch, and a Cubs game on the radio. That was my setup last night, anyways, and it couldn’t have worked out better. As the Cubs pelted the Reds for 12 runs and solidified their lead in the NL Central, I devoured this rustic, toothy, oily cigar that’s stubby in format (4 x 52) and affordable in price (less than $7). You might recall that Aquitaine has the same filler blend (Estelí, Condega, and Pueblo Nuevo) and binder (Cameroon) as CroMagnon. But instead of featuring a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, Aquitaine has an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero wrapper. That blend results in a rich, leathery smoke with notes of espresso, white pepper, balanced sweetness, and cashew. Construction is stellar. All this renders the Aquitaine Knuckle Dragger an easy cigar to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Aganorsa Leaf JFR Lunatic Habano Short Robusto

7 Aug 2019

I was recently smoking a JFR Lunatic Short Robusto and trying to explain the name to someone not familiar with it. Turns out it’s not an easy task; not much about it makes sense.

JFR stands for “Just for Retailers” (brick-and-mortar only). But while that was once true, the line is now sold online and in catalogs. “Lunatic” refers to the absurdly large ring gauge sizes (two 60s, one 70, and one 80), but that doesn’t apply to the more traditionally proportioned Short Robusto.

Even “Short Robusto” is a misnomer as the cigar is 4.75 inches long with a ring gauge of 52, a size far more often designated as just “robusto.” (The Aganorsa site says it is 4.25 inches, but my trusty tape measure confirms it is a half inch longer.) Of course, none of that really matters when it comes to whether or not the cigar is worth smoking.

Weighing in favorably on that side is a value-oriented sub $6 price. Made by Aganorsa Leaf (which, up until a spring 2018 re-brand, had been known as Casa Fernandez) at their TABSA factory in Estelí, the cigar features a Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler wrapped in a rustic Ecuadorian habano leaf.

The cigar starts out with a burst of toast and sweetness as you burn through the closed foot. It soon settles into a medium- to full-bodied profile with notes of roast cashews, honey, light oak, cream, and a slightly metallic note on the finish.

While there isn’t much variation after the first few minutes, the consistent notes still comprise a pleasant combination of flavors with plenty of sweetness until the final third. Construction is also impressive with an easy draw and sturdy ash, although one of my three specimens required multiple touch-ups to correct the burn.

It isn’t hard to see why this cigar has garnered favorable reviews, including being featured at number eight on Cigar Aficionado‘s Top 25 list for 2018. The simple fact is, good cigars that cost closer to a Lincoln than a Hamilton are hard to find, even if it isn’t the best offering in the Aganorsa Leaf/Casa Fernandez portfolio.

While value is always appreciated, we don’t factor price into our full reviews. (Everyone’s sensitivity to price is personal, so we let you factor that in yourself.) Still, solid construction and pleasant flavors earn the Aganorsa Leaf JFR Lunatic Habano Short Robusto a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Emilio AF1 Robusto

5 Aug 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

In January, in what was called a merger between two entities, Black Label Trading Co. took over marketing and branding for the Scott Zocca-owned Emilio Cigars portfolio, as well as producing the brand’s cigars at its Fabrica Oveha Negra factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. The cigar might have a new (and, in my opinion, improved) look, but the blend remains the same: a dark, toothy San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos. It has been awhile since I’ve had an AF1, but this experience was exceptional. Outstanding construction and heavy notes of char and espresso with considerable spice on the lips. The Robusto (5 x 50) retails for $9.50, which makes this a very good deal.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Cohiba Puro Dominicana Corona

4 Aug 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

For many years, the spicy, full-bodied  Dominican puro Fuente Opus X was one of those hard-to-find cigars that consumers constantly asked their tobacconists for, and were just excited to find at close to suggested retail price. At least partially in response to that demand, Cohiba introduced Puro Dominicana, also a Dominican puro oriented towards those seeking a spicier Dominican smoke.  Cohiba Puro Dominicana features dry oak, light spice, restrained pepper, and leather. You won’t mistake it for an Opus X, but it is a well-made, tasty, medium- to full-bodied cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Cigars International’s Next Step Is Florida

2 Aug 2019

Retail giant Cigars International is planning its first venture into the southeast with a new store just north of Tampa.

The move comes months after the retailer’s owner, Scandavanian Tobacco Group (STG), announced plans to shut Tampa operations for Thompson Cigar, which it bought last year for $62 million.

The new Florida store will continue Cigars International’s expansion efforts beyond its Pennsylvania roots. Last year, it opened a 6,000-square-foot shop in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

Florida and Pennsylvania are home to many online/catalog cigar retailers like Cigars International because neither state imposes a separate cigar tax.

In recent years, the Tampa area has seen moves by several cigar industry giants. Imperial Brands Casa de Montecristo bought and renamed Tampa Humidor in 2018, and Davidoff partnered with Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Orlando-based Corona Cigar Co., to open a signature shop near the airport.

STG is a massive player in the tobacco market, especially through manufacturer General Cigar. Other holdings include, Cigars & Pipes online store, and a number of pipe tobacco and machine-made cigar brands.

It is in the process of winding down Thompson’s Tampa operations, where the company has operated since moving from Key West in 1920.

The new Cigars International store is proposed for a retail area north of Tampa near the intersection of interstates 75 and 275, according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s not so much a cigar store, but a destination,” company president Craig Reynolds told the newspaper.

Plans call for opening next year.

George E

photo credit: Cigars International