Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIII)

19 Nov 2015

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I look at Steve Saka’s radical transparency, the origins of the word “herf,” and suggestions for finding value cigars.


The Original Cigar Blogger Pulls Back the Curtain

You don’t have to talk very long with Steve Saka to realize he isn’t the type to BS you. In fact, after sitting down with him during a couple of trips to Drew Estate while he was still with the company, I came to appreciate you could ask him just about anything, as long as you were prepared to hear an unvarnished, candid answer. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me to see his openness (especially on Facebook) about the process, including the challenges and anxiety, of creating his own cigar brand and bringing it to market. Even the info sheet that came with the samples he recently sent for review came with a leaf-by-leaf breakdown of the Sobremesa blend, something many established brands are still unwilling to provide (in part for fear of someone copying their blend). It’s a level of transparency you don’t often see. And yet maybe his candor shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before Saka was the driving force behind the creation of Liga Privada, he was the editor of what was essentially the first cigar blog, (before the word blog even existed). While the original Cigar Nexus domain is no longer online, you can still read the archive here, including the Monthly Officious Taste Test or M.O.T.T. (a not-so-subtle jab at then Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott).

Herf, Established November 21, 1996

Speaking of Cigar Nexus, here’s a gem about the origin of the the word herf, which originated on the alt.smokers.cigars (ACS) newsgroup in 1996: “The un-official word of ASC is herf. Herf is a unique part of speech. It can be correctly used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, an infinitive, a prefix, a suffix, and an explicative. The arcane word ‘herf’ first entered the ASC lexicon on November 21, 1996, and was quickly elevated to frenetic and common use by ASCers… Herf is now virulently spreading to worldwide common use as hip cigar parlance.”

Which Wrappers Are Most Likely to Produce Value?

Finding a good cigar isn’t all that hard these days. Finding a good cigar at a price that offers excellent value is harder. But if good values are what you are after, one thing to think about is wrappers. Connecticut wrappers, both shade-grown and broadleaf, are hardest to do on a budget, in part because good Connecticut-grown wrappers are increasingly in demand. So if you’re the type of person who seeks out that elusive bundle cigar that smokes like a pricier stick, you’ll improve your odds by sticking to Nicaraguan-grown Habano and Mexican wrappers.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Norteño Edicion Limitada Churchill

18 Nov 2015


In May 2014, Drew Estate announced Willy Herrera as its new “master blender.” The move did not place Herrera in charge of La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate; rather, he was charged with maintaining current blends, producing new ones, and reporting directly to Jonathan Drew. The news came just a few days after Nick Melillo left Drew Estate, where he served for 11 years with responsibilities ranging from purchasing and fermentation to quality control and shipment planning. And it also came after Steve Saka left the company.

Drew EstateAt the time, Willy Herrera’s biggest contribution to Drew Estate was Herrera Estelí, a five-vitola line of Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigars with a Cuban-esque flavor profile (a sixth vitola, a Toro Tubo, was added later). The blend was well-received within the online cigar community, and also in mainstream publications. The Herrera Estelí Piramide Fino was named the eighth best cigar of 2013 by Cigar Aficionado.

In July 2014, Drew Estate announced Willy’s highly anticipated follow-up to Herrera Estelí: the Herrera Estelí Norteño. Norteño translates to “northerners,” which is what people in Nicaragua call those who live around Estelí. The blend features a Mexican San Andrés wrapper, a Honduran binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua. There are six original vitolas, all box-pressed and all made at Drew Estate (despite preliminary reports listing Joya de Nicaragua as the factory of manufacture).

This September, retailers received a seventh Norteño vitola called Edicion Limitada Churchill (7 x 48). The flattened box-pressed smoke—almost rectangle-pressed, if you will—lends itself, I think, to a punch cut, which is all that’s needed to reveal an easy cold draw. The dark, slightly reddish, moderately oily cigar has potent pre-light notes of cocoa, sweet hay, and damp earth off the foot. The feel is consistently firm throughout.

Once lit, a chalky, medium-bodied flavor emerges with tastes of dark chocolate, black coffee, creamy nut, brown sugar, and a little cayenne spice. The finish and retrohale both exhibit a soft black pepper spice, though the overall level of spice is quite muted. Throughout the smoke, there’s an interesting interplay between what I’d call moist chocolate cake, oak, and coffee.

Construction is outstanding. The draw is very easy, the smoke production above average, the burn line straight, and the sandy, white ash holds well off the foot.

Maybe it’s my palate, maybe it’s the size, or maybe it’s some combination of the two, but the Edicion Limitada Churchill is more flavorful and less spicy than the pre-release sample I reviewed in June 2014. I’ve smoked a fair number of Norteños since, and I’m pretty confident this new size is my favorite—even with the $14 price tag. Make sure you try it before the limited run is up. This is a winner that’s worthy of an admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2015)

17 Nov 2015


First introduced in 2012, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is a limited annual release bourbon from the Louisville Distilling Company. Like the regular release bourbon from Angel’s Envy, the annual Cask Strength release is a Kentucky bourbon that spends additional time aging in port barrels.

This year has been an exciting one for Angel’s Envy and Louisville Distilling, which saw the company get purchased by Bacardi. (Needless to say, now Angel’s Envy won’t have any trouble finding rum casks to use for the cask-finished Angel’s Envy Rye.)

This year’s Cask Strength release consists of 7,500 bottles (a slight increase from last year) which will be released in about a dozen states this month where it will carry a suggested price of around $170. While the exact age isn’t disclosed, press materials state the bourbon was aged “up to seven years” in new charred white oak bourbon barrels before beginning the port barrel finishing process.

The 2015 edition is the strongest Cask Strength release to date, weighing in at a hearty 127.9-proof (63.95% alcohol by volume). It is deep golden in color and the nose features caramel and plum notes, along with some heat to remind you of the proof.

On the palate, the bourbon shows a delicious combination of red fruits, vanilla, pound cake, and oak. A splash of water reveals even more flavors, including clove, butterscotch, and hints of mint. The finish has more caramel and berries that linger on the roof of your mouth.

While I never got to try the highly-regarded 2012 and 2013 Cask Strength Angel’s Envy expressions, I can say I think the 2015 surpasses last year’s edition. A splash of water opens it up nicely and really allows the subtleties to shine past the considerable alcohol strength.

With or without a splash of water, this is a bold bourbon that needs a full-bodied cigar pairing. Here are a few suggestions that should hit the mark: Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Aging Room M19 Fortissimo Preferido

16 Nov 2015

M19 FortissimoThe third annual release in this limited line from Aging Room features the now-familiar nipple foot, pigtail cap, and same dimensions (5.75 x 47) used in the previous M21 and M20.

The M19 also shares a full-strength profile with its siblings. But this year’s blend—introduced this summer—is a bit different, though all use well-aged tobaccos. To me, the M19 may be the smoothest Fortissimo yet.

With a nearly vein-free, tight Habano wrapper around Dominican binder and filler, the M19 is a lovely cigar. The box press is well done. This cigar performs as fine as it looks, with a near-perfect draw and slow burn from start to finish.

Aging Room rolled 20,000 M19s, the same number as it did for last year’s edition. So while it won’t be on every tobacconist shelf, there should be enough to go around, at least for a little while.

I’ve been working my way through a five-pack ($69.50) and each one has been a pleasure to smoke.

From the start, it grabs your attention with thick, powerful smoke and a pepper blast. The pepper drops off a bit about a third of the way down, and a rich tobacco sweetness builds over it.

There’s a bit of wood and leather along the way as well. By the final third, the pepper is back and bringing the M19 to a strong close.

If, like me, you’re already an Aging Room fan, I think you’ll find the M19 a natural for your palate. If you haven’t tried an Aging Room and want to check in with one at the top of the strength chart, light it up and enjoy.

I give the M19 four and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Liga Privada T-52 Corona Doble

15 Nov 2015

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.”


The underlooked half of the Liga Privada core blends, T-52 features a Connecticut-grown Habano wrapper that is stalk-cut and cured (meaning instead of just curing the leaves, each tobacco stalk is cured whole). The blend features notes of wood, leather, black coffee, and earth. Construction is excellent. There’s a slightly sour quality that comes and goes. Maybe my tastes have changed, or maybe the T-52 has changed, or maybe this was just an anomaly, but, while pleasant, this cigar didn’t live up to its $15 price tag.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crux du Connoisseur No. 2

14 Nov 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.


When I got the OK from my doctor to rejoin the land of the living, I had already decided this lovely 6.5-inch lancero would be my first smoke. Minnesota-based Crux sent me three samples when I was on the medically induced wagon, and the dark, oily Habano Jalapa wrapper was enticing. The cigar did not disappoint. The blend, with a Nicaraguan binder and Honduran filler, made an immediate impact with spice and cedar. The spice moved up and down in intensity throughout, and other flavors, from coffee to nuts, intermingled as well. Draw was a little tight in spots, but not really detrimental; construction and burn, always a concern with thin cigars (38 ring gauge), was excellent. A cigar you’ll want to smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 456

13 Nov 2015

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

75th Anniversary1) Online retailer Famous Smoke Shop and Padrón have announced the Famous 75th Padrón Anniversary cigar (5 x 54), a box-pressed robusto that will be offered with either a Nicaraguan Habano natural or Nicaraguan Habano Maduro wrapper. Only 3,000 boxes of 10 have been made. The cigars will retail for $21 apiece. “Both Jorge [Padrón] and I owe a lot to our parents and the values they taught us,” said Arthur Zaretsky, head of Famous Smoke Shop. “So, in celebrating our 75-year legacy as Famous Smoke Shop, and in the spirit of family, we celebrate you—our customer—with this special cigar from Padrón.”

2) 262 Cigars is celebrating its fifth anniversary with its sixth blend. Suit & Tie, as the line is called, will debut in December in two sizes—a box-pressed Toro and a Lancero—both of which will be sold in 10-count boxes with an MSRP of $125 per box. “I was at the factory and this particular blend grabbed a hold of me,” said 262 founder Clint Aaron in a press release. “I wanted to wait until the timing was right, so we put it on the back-burner… [Later] I was on a road trip, and all of the sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks. That blend would be perfect for a short-run to coincide with our five years of being in the industry.”

3) Inside the Industry: CAO has shipped two limited edition cigars (both 6.5 x 52) as part of its annual Christmas-themed release. This year the two cigars are Wicked Winter and Stingy Scrooge. Wicked Winter features a Honduran wrapper, U.S. broadleaf binder, and Honduran and Nicaraguan filler. Stingy Scrooge uses a Connecticut Habano wrapper, Brazilian Arapiraca binder, and a combination of Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. They sell for $8 each in 14-count boxes.

4) Deal of the Week: The highly-anticipated (and highly-rated) Sobermesa, the debut offering from Steve Saka‘s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, is now available at Smoke Inn. Use the code “Stogie10” to get 10% off your order. And be sure to move quickly; Sobremesa is likely to sell out.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Famous Smoke Shop