Cigar Review: Polpetta

8 Sep 2020

At the end of 2019—back when the world was a much different place—Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (DTT) announced a new event-only line called Polpetta (Italian for “meatball”). The key there is “event-only.” It’s challenging to stick to that strategy in a year when COIVD-19 effectively brought in-person cigar events to a screeching halt.

Flash forward to July 16, 2020. Smoke Inn, a Florida-based retailer with a robust e-commerce presence, hosted a “Saka’s Smorgasbord” online event, which featured a conversation between Saka and Smoke Inn chief Abe Dababneh, as well as special deals on Dunbarton samplers. And, just as if the event had been conducted in-person, certain purchases included a varying number of Polpetta cigars.

I jumped at what was likely my only chance to secure some Polpettas and made an online purchase of a sampler. Today I am reviewing the cigar after sampling two specimens.

Saka describes this small (4 x 48) parejo as “utilizing the long leaf table trimmings from three of our current ligas.” He wrote on Facebook: “If this concept sounds familiar, it is. I have done it a few times in the past and we are now producing enough Broadleaf cigars to make it viable from a production point of view at DTT.”

In addition to “meatball” being “the perfect moniker for this tasty treat,” it should be noted meatballs have a special place in Saka’s heart—and evidently he’s quite good at making them. Twice he has won the “Meatball Showdown” event held at Two Guys Smoke Shop in his home state of New Hampshire.

The cigar includes a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around a Mexican San Andrés binder. The filler is comprised of the aforementioned “table trimmings” from Saka’s Mi Querida, Mi Querida Triqui Traca, and Umbagog lines.

Seemingly everything Steve Saka touches turns to gold these days. Yet Polpetta doesn’t have the look of a winner. It’s rough around the edges—literally. I realize Broadleaf makes for a thick wrapper, but here the seams stick out to the point they are prone to peel, crack, and nearly unravel. The cap isn’t pretty, either.

When you get a “table trimmings” cigar, though, you’re more interested in a high flavor-to-cost ratio, not necessarily aesthetics. In terms of flavor, the outset is an interesting, bready mix of raisin, cocoa, espresso, white pepper, and earth. The mouthfeel is dry and oaky. After the first inch or so, the rest of the cigar is characterized by periods where the taste seems to stall—low intensity, papery, dry—and periods when the notes from the beginning shine through.

In terms of physical properties, I have no complaints. The draw is smooth, the ash holds well off the foot, the burn is straight, and the smoke production is average.

That said, it’s clear to me the highlight of the sampler I purchased (notwithstanding my motivations) is not the two Polpettas that were thrown in, but rather the ten other DTT cigars, including vitolas of Sobremesa, Mi Querida, Mi Querida Triqui Traca, and Umbagog. While Polpetta is not a bad cigar by any means, I don’t think it’s worth going out of your way to seek out. In my book, it earns three stogies out of five—which makes it the lowest-rated DTT cigar on this site.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ardbeg Wee Beastie Single Malt Scotch Whisky

3 Sep 2020

Ardbeg’s profile has always been bold and brash, and in many ways the announcement of its new Wee Beastie offering is following in that tradition. At a time when many new single malts are dropping age statements due to a lack of desirable double-digit age statements, a new offering that loudly proclaims it is “just” five years old is the quintessential zig when everyone else is zagging.

Deemed the “rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever”—which says something for a brand known for raw, smoky, peaty offerings—it is matured in ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks and non chill-filtered at 47.4% ABV. At around $45, depending on where you are, it is priced to be tried as one of the least expensive, age-stated, single malt scotch whiskies (certainly one of the most affordable new age-stated offerings in recent years).

The result is a pale, light straw-colored single malt. Those who identify deep, rich color as evidence of quality whiskey aren’t likely to be impressed, but Ardbeg’s other offerings, which also present unadulterated color, show this can be meaningless. The nose features barbecue smoke, raw alcohol, tart apples, and hints of mint, pear, and tar.

The palate is more of the same: a vibrant combination of saltwater, ash, tar, gingerbread, white pepper, and malty sugar cookies. The finish is long and bright with fudge, salted caramel, soot, and more malty sweetness.

No one will mistake Ardbeg Wee Beastie for a significantly-aged single malt, but it boasts a lot to enjoy. The intense flavors are tamed by the subtle sherry notes, while the smokiness and brine never let you forget its age.

As far as cigar pairings go, it needs a full-bodied smoke. The PG Series III (pictured) my colleague recently extolled certainly fits the bill. Other ideal parings include Padrón Serie 1926, Ramón Allones (Cuban), and the Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection.

Ultimately, this whiskey certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you like smokey, peaty single malts—think Ardbeg’s older expressions, Lagavulin, or Laphroaig—this young, raw expression of Ardbeg is worth a try.

–Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: My Father La Gran Oferta Robusto

20 Aug 2020

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

Made at My Father’s factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, La Gran Oferta employs tobaccos from the company’s Nicaraguan farms and features an oily Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper. It produces loads of smoke and medium- to full-bodied flavors. Construction is flawless, with a sturdy gray ash. Notes include toast, black coffee, earth, and roast nuts. It’s not my favorite My Father Cigars regular offering, but it is still worth checking out.

Verdict = Buy.

–Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Paul Garmirian Gourmet III Short Robusto

18 Aug 2020

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 cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five stogie-rated cigars can be found here.]

–Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Diesel Delirium

6 Aug 2020

Last spring, a new, limited edition cigar called Diesel Hair of the Dog emerged as a favorite go-to smoke of mine. This was a surprise since—while I have the utmost respect for A.J. Fernandez as a cigar maker—the Diesel brand had thus far been, in my opinion, hit-or-miss.

But Hair of the Dog hit my palate in all the right places. It was a delicious, well-balanced, toro-sized smoke with a light press and flavors including cashew, white pepper, toast, cinnamon, and licorice. Perhaps out of step with the Diesel name, it was subtle and medium-bodied.

This spring, a new limited edition Diesel was launched, also only in a toro (6 x 52) format. But that’s about where the similarities between Hair of the Dog and Delirium end. Delirium is marketed as “the boldest Diesel blend to date.” Handmade at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez in Estelí, the powerful Delirium recipe calls for an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper, a Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and a blend of Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, some from the volcanic island of Ometepe. A fair amount of ligero is employed.

You may recall Ometepe, which rises out of Lake Nicaragua, is home to tobacco production that’s exclusive to General Cigar. Like Hair of the Dog, Delirium is a production with General, which helps guarantee a wide release, even with the limited-edition production ceiling. Only 5,000 boxes of 10 were made for a total production run of 50,000 cigars.

Delirium sports two bands of black, bronze, and maroon, with the foot band making clear this is a “2020 Limited Edition.” The dark Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper is uniform in color (milk chocolate) with tight seams and few noticeable veins. The firmness is slightly spongy, and the foot exudes pre-light notes of earth, cocoa, and peanut.

If I were to smoke this cigar in the morning or afternoon, I might arrive at the conclusion it is too strong (in terms of nicotine content) and too bold in flavor. But the several samples I examined for this review were all in the evening and with a full stomach. In this setting, the phrase “highly satisfying” comes to mind. While Delirium is full-bodied and powerful from the get-go, it’s more than a mere nicotine sledgehammer. There are awesome flavors here, including leather, nutmeg, black pepper, espresso, charred oak, and roasted peanut.

Construction is superb. From light to nub, the burn is straight, the ash holds well off the foot, the draw is clear, and the smoke production is agreeable.

If the Delirium name sounds a oddly familiar, keep in mind this isn’t the first Diesel Delirium. The original was introduced in 2014 by Cigars International and was only briefly on the market. (Diesel started as a catalog brand sold through Cigars International before releasing the Grind blend in 2017, which was just for tobacconists; other B&M blends followed, including Whiskey Row and Sherry Cask.)

As far as I’m concerned, the two limited editions released in 2019 and 2020—Hair of the Dog and Delirium, respectively—constitute the cream of the Diesel crop. Like the former, the Diesel Delirium earns an admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Villiger TAA Exclusive Toro

22 Jul 2020

In early March, we learned Villiger Cigars had, for the first time in the company’s history, created an exclusive cigar for members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA). As you may recall, TAA is made up of approximately 80 retailers and 40 manufacturers, and it aims to “maximize professionalism and success” through training and sharing best practices.

You can locate a TAA shop near you here. When you arrive, ask about their selection of TAA Exclusive smokes. In addition to Villiger, the lineup in 2020 includes brands like A.J. Fernandez, Crowned Heads, E.P. Carrillo, J.C. Newman, La Flor Dominicana, La Palina, My Father, Tatuaje, and more.

Participating in the TAA Exclusive initiative is only the latest in a series of moves by Villiger in to step up its premium cigar game. For quite some time, the Switzerland-based company had been known almost exclusively as a purveyor of machine-made cigars. In recent years, though, Villiger has introduced several premium handmade cigar lines out of its North American headquarters in Miami, including La Flor de Ynclan, 1888, San’Doro, La Vencedora, and La Meridiana.

For this limited 2020 TAA release, Villiger joined forces with cigar icon Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and his Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. factory in the Dominican Republic. The blend calls for an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Only 500 boxes of 20 cigars were made (total production of 10,000) in a single, box-pressed Toro (6 x 54) format. The MSRP is $9.

The Villiger TAA Exclusive Toro officially shipped about a week ago. I sampled two for this review, both provided by Villiger. This cigar has a slightly mottled, milk chocolate-colored wrapper with a reddish hue. The single ring (it looks like a double-banded cigar, but it’s all one ring) of maroon, gold, and white clearly sets it apart from the rest of the Villiger portfolio. The pre-light aroma at the foot is sweet and earthy, and the cap clips cleanly to reveal a moderate cold draw with a bit of meatiness on the palate.

These days, so many cigars start with a “blast of pepper.” This one does not. It introduces itself with a classic-tasting, medium-bodied profile with flavors of leather and a warm tobacco sweetness. The texture is bready. Background notes help make the overall impression a harmonious, well-rounded one. They include green raisin, oak, and a bit of cayenne.

I had anticipated some changes along the way, but the Toro rides out the introductory profile from start to finish. As it does, the physical properties leave little to be desired. The sturdy, gray ash holds well off the foot, the burn is straight, the smoke production is generous, and the draw is clear.

I don’t like to deduct points from a cigar whose only real fault is an unchanging—albeit tasty—flavor. That said, I wish I had the ability to try this in a smaller corona format; this thick toro doesn’t necessarily overstay its welcome, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my interest starts to wane in the final third.

I am still strongly recommending this cigar in the only format we have. The harmonious, classic flavor coupled with outstanding construction is more than enough to justify the $9 cost. Hiring Ernesto Perez-Carrillo to make you a cigar is never a bad idea, and this one scores four stogies out of five in my book.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor

16 Jul 2020

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

Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust makes a variety of well-reviewed, sought-after cigars. On the ultra-premium end is Muestra de Saka, a series of one-off cigars, each with its own size and blend packaged individually in coffin boxes. The latest, Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor, is the first not to be made at the Joya de Nicaragua factory. Blended by Raul Disla and made at the Nicaragua American Cigars S.A. factory, it’s a Nicaraguan puro. After an initial burst of black pepper, the toro boasts flavors of earth, leather, and a hearty meatiness reminiscent of grilled lamb. It’s a medium- to full-bodied blend with loads of complementary sweet cedar and cinnamon, but never losing that spicy, oaky edge. It has flawless construction with a firm but not overly tight draw and an ash that holds for well over an inch (before I, not the cigar, decided that was enough). You should expect a lot from a cigar that costs over $16. Unstolen Valor delivers.

Verdict = Buy.

–Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys