Quick Smoke: E.P. Carrillo Capa de Sol Sultan

3 Aug 2018

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.”

Until a few nights ago, this specimen had been resting in one of my humidors for about two years. Part of E.P. Carrillo’s “Elite Series,” the Capa de Sol blend sports a dark Ecuadorian leaf around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. In its three other sizes, which range in ring gauge from 52 to 54, I suspect the line is significantly stronger and denser. The Sultan (6 x 60) format, however, renders the blend cool, airy, and slightly subdued. Flavors include sharp red pepper, chalky earth, sweet cocoa, and a bit of black pepper spice. Expect the price to be in the $9 to $10 range. I’d like to try some of the other Capa de Sol sizes because my main reason for not fully recommending this cigar has to do with construction (flaky ash, somewhat burdensome burn) and the fact that it tends to overstay its welcome. If you’re a fan of the gordo size, however, take my criticism with a grain of salt; this just might be up your alley, and there’s a lot to like here flavor-wise.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 6 Year Bourbon & David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

1 Aug 2018

The soaring popularity of bourbon has resulted in high-end bourbon getting more and more expensive. Today, we’re ignoring the premium-priced whiskey and looking for some value bourbon options, both 100-proof Kentucky straight bourbons.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 6 Year Bourbon is sold only in Kentucky for the value price of around $13 a bottle. Made by Heaven Hill (who makes Elijah Craig and Evan Williams), it uses a mashbill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. It’s a standout because, while there are many bottom-shelf bourbons in the same price range, none carry an age statement of six years (meaning all the whiskey in the bottle has been aged at least six years).

David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is also bottled at 100-proof, although it doesn’t carry an age statement. The brand was owned by the Van Winkle family until it was sold to Missouri-based Luxco in 2000. David Nicolson’s 1843 brand utilizes a wheated mashbill (as is the standard for Van Winkle bourbons), but the $30 Nicholson Reserve features a more traditional mashbill with rye along with corn and malted barley.

Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon
Color: Light amber.
Nose: Vanilla, brown sugar, burnt corn, citrus.
Palate: Butterscotch, spice, wood.
Finish: Long with cinnamon and burnt sugar.
Verdict: Just a solid, if unexceptional, classic bourbon. Good enough to sip neat, but perfectly priced and proofed for cocktails or other mixed drinks.

David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Color: Orange copper.
Nose: Candied apple, spice, and leather.
Palate: Plenty of spice and vanilla with apple and red fruit.
Finish: Intense but short finish with fruit and spice.
Verdict: Though not for everyone, this is a unique and largely enjoyable sipping bourbon. There’s a short sweetness that is enjoyable and can work in the right cocktail.

In terms of price-to-value ratio, Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon is hard to beat, which is why it is a bourbon I try (despite being sold only in Kentucky) to keep on hand when I can. David Nicholson Reserve is more expensive, but also more unique. It’s worth a try, despite falling into a more competitive price range that includes such excellent bourbons as Eagle Rare 10 Year, Elijah Craig, and others.

These are both versatile bourbons that pair with excellent cigars. Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon pairs well with most balanced cigars, while the spiciness of David Nicholson Reserve is more apt towards a medium- to full-bodied cigar, like El Güegüense, Litto Gomez Diez Small Batch, Muestra de Saka, or Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Joya de Nicaragua Clásico Toro

30 Jul 2018

About a month ago, Joya de Nicaragua announced the reintroduction of the Clásico line to the U.S. market. The move to bring back “the first Nicaraguan cigar ever” seems fitting at a time when the company is celebrating its golden anniversary.

“Clásico goes back to America at a moment when we have reached the highest quality standards at the factory in our 50-year history,” said Mario Perez, sales director for Joya de Nicaragua. “But we kept the same blend that the founders of the company created, the blend that once captivated world leaders when it was the official cigar of the White House back in the 70s.”

In a departure from the powerful smokes for which the company is known, Joya is marketing Clásico as “mild” and “creamy.” There are 6 formats, each packaged in 25-count boxes: Churchill (6.9 x 48, $8.50), Toro (6 x 50, $8.15), Consul (4.5 x 52, $7.00), Torpedo (6 x 52, $9.50), Número 6 (6 x 41, $6.50) and Señorita (5.5 x 42, $5.50).

The recipe remains the same as it did decades ago. The wrapper is Cuban-seed Ecuadorian Connecticut, and the binder and filler tobaccos are, of course, Nicaraguan.

I sampled the Toro for this review. In addition to traditional, understated, and—in my opinion—beautiful bands that nicely highlight the golden color of the smooth, buttery wrapper, this cigar has bright, crisp pre-light notes of sweet hay at the foot. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw.

Once an even light is established, I find a creamy texture and a medium body to the smoke. The flavors include white pepper, oak, and café au lait. Roasted peanut comes to the fore after half an inch; this is the most enjoyable segment of the cigar.

About a third of the way in, there is a notable decrease in what was already a soft spice, and the creaminess ramps up. The profile teeters between mild and medium once you reach the halfway mark. Here, the roasted peanut is now a creamier peanut, and the former base of white pepper and oak is mostly oak. At times, I can pick up hints of melon.

The finale is mellower than I expected. There is no spice, and the overall taste is somewhat papery with a subdued creaminess. As a result, I found myself setting the cigar down earlier than I do with most smokes.

The construction is in line with the standards that are characteristic of Joya de Nicaragua: straight burn, smooth draw, sturdy ash, and voluminous smoke production.

I enjoy mild cigars, but mild cigars need to have flavor. The Clásico Toro has flavor. At times it shines, and at times—especially the final third—it falls a little short. I’m going to try the other sizes to see if this is true across the board, or if other formats behave differently in this regard. For now, I’m awarding the Joya de Nicaragua Clásico Toro three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Diesel Rage Corona

29 Jul 2018

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’ve long heard from Diesel fans who say the line offers strong, full-bodied flavors at a discount price. Today I’m checking out the Diesel Rage blend in the Corona size, which is made by A.J. Fernandez with a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The cigar features deep earth and black coffee with malt, cinnamon, and graham cracker. While I’ve found other Diesel cigars to be full-bodied yet one-dimensional and unbalanced, this is a more complex smoke. That, combined with excellent construction, makes it worth a try.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Plascencia Reserva Original Cortez

27 Jul 2018

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.”

Plascencia grows lots of tobacco and rolls lots of cigars, mostly for other brands. Through the years, the company has also released a number of its own products, including some using organic tobacco like the Reserva Original. The Nicaraguan puro came out last year and is available in seven sizes, each adorned with three bands. The Cortez is a handsome figurado that measures 5.75 inches long with a ring gauge of 56 and a reasonable retail price around $9. I was excited to try it, but disappointed with the results. I knew it was a relatively mild cigar, so I wasn’t looking for power or punch. But I was expecting more than I got: a fairly bland smoke with little in the way of interesting flavors, spice, or complexity.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The FDA Should Not Be in the Business of Regulating Premium Cigars

25 Jul 2018

FDA-cigars-large

The deadline for comments to the Food and Drug Administration about whether or not it should regulate handmade cigars are due today at midnight. You should submit your comments here.

If you are wondering what to tell the FDA, we gave some succinct suggestions here. Our comments the FDA were a little more in depth. We reprint them here in their entirety:

As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, respectively, of the cigar news and review site StogieGuys.com, and as cigar consumers, we strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to completely rescind—or, at the very least, significantly curtail—all FDA regulations that apply to handmade cigars.

We have been reporting and writing about the premium cigar industry for over a decade (since StogieGuys.com’s founding in May 2006) That level of experience is not required to understand that, because of their natural and handmade production process, premium cigars will always be an inferior product, compared to other tobacco products, when it comes to effective nicotine delivery. That, combined with their high price point, makes premium handmade cigars particularly unattractive to underage tobacco users. In sum, the interests of public health and harm reduction are not served by regulating premium handmade cigars.

Our comments today reincorporate our comments to the FDA from August 27, 2014 in opposition to any regulations of handmade cigars. Our comments then made five key points, each of which continues to be a compelling reason to not regulate handmade cigars, especially when compared to existing efforts to enforce pre-2016 regulations on cigarettes and other tobacco products:

1. Cigars are fundamentally different from cigarettes and most other types of tobacco.

2. The FDA should not extend authority at all, and certainly not to handmade cigars, because it lacks the ability to do so [given current and future budget constraints].

3. If the FDA erroneously chooses to [continue to] regulate cigars, it should adopt a premium handmade cigar exemption that doesn’t rely on an arbitrary price, or flavor distinctions.

4. FDA regulations on premium cigars will cost jobs, both domestically and abroad. (Avoiding unemployment is almost universally considered good for your health. For example, experts have found (https://bit.ly/2A1X1lZ) that “people who are unemployed: have poorer physical and mental health overall, consult their [primary physician] more, are more likely to be admitted to hospital, [and] have higher death rates.”)

5. The FDA should focus on existing regulations, not expanding new regulations to handmade cigars.

Subjects one, two, four, and five demonstrate why the FDA’s mission of public health, with a special focus on the prevention of tobacco use by minors, should exempt handmade cigars so the focus can be on cigarettes and other tobacco products that fulfill the FDA’s above-stated goals.

We further emphasize the third key point made in our 2016 comments regarding a potential definition used for premium or handmade cigars: If the FDA decides to exempt “premium” cigars, it should do so based on the artisanal techniques used to produce handmade cigars. If, however, the FDA insists on using product cost to draw such a line, it should rely on the only line drawn by Congress which limited SCHIP tax rates to the first 40.26 cents of the wholesale price per cigar (i.e., cigars with a wholesale price above 40.26 cents should be exempt and classified as premium cigars).

Regulation of Handmade Cigars Won’t Advance the FDA’s Stated Goals

If the FDA is devoted to deploying its resources to pursue an agenda of harm reduction, this militates against regulating handmade cigars. The undeniable truth is virtually every human activity—including choices about diet, exercise, healthcare, social relationships, etc.—comes with some health risk. The FDA has recently moved towards a focus on risk-reduction, whereby regulatory activity is judged by its net effects, taking into account that regulation can and will steer individuals towards other, more or less risky, activities. Decreased regulation of handmade cigars logically follows from these stated goals.

Those who have read the National Institute of Health’s “Monograph 9: Cigars: Health Effects and Trends” and overviews of the health impacts of cigarette use will conclude that if the average cigarette smoker were suddenly transformed into the average handmade cigar smoker, public health would be far better off. Cigar smokers tend to smoke far less frequently and are therefore are far more capable of quitting, should they decide to.

The Regulation of Handmade Cigars Will Be Unwieldy

While handmade cigars are made in what is called a “cigar factory,” ultimately compared to most modern standardized manufacturing practices, the very nature of handmade cigars is far less precise than other more mass-market tobacco products. In fact, it is fair to say that the basic cigar manufacturing process has evolved little in decades, or perhaps even centuries.

Cigars are made with very broad specifications, which leaves significant discretion to each cigar roller to produce a final cigar that bares the key characteristics of the blend but is ultimately tweaked slightly to produce a cigar that will still combust and taste as expected by the consumer. The fact is, each cigar leaf is not identical in size, nor can each tobacco be produced uniformly because each frequently comes from a different farm (and part of that farm), a different growing season, and had been hand-processed by a different person.

In other words, no two handmade cigars are ever identical. This makes any attempt to regulate cigars through an FDA pre-approval process inherently unwieldy and unworkable.

The FDA’s Limited Resources Should Be Focused On More Consequential Tasks

Perhaps most critically, the FDA should exempt handmade cigars. Given existing fiscal realities, FDA regulation of handmade cigars would mean less regulatory resources elsewhere. If the FDA had infinite resources to regulate all tobacco products, the correct question to ask would be: Can regulation of handmade cigars create any net health benefit? But even if it could, that is not the reality the FDA faces today, or will ever face.

In a world of growing deficits, increasing financial obligations from entitlement spending, and little appetite for large tax increases, the FDA must accept it is increasingly being asked to do more with less, or at the very least more with the same resources, especially considering its existing large portfolio of non-tobacco regulatory mandates. In that light, the real question the FDA should ask as it considers whether to undertake the regulation of handmade cigars is: Will regulation of handmade cigars, to the detriment of other FDA regulatory activities, create a net gain in public health or risk reduction?

When judged against the potential impact of deploying FDA resources elsewhere, the considerable resources that would need to be devoted to any regulation of handmade cigars (which overwhelmingly produced in jurisdictions outside the United States) cannot be justified. Studies do not show that handmade cigars are used in any meaningful amounts by minors, and in fact even the previous FDA-cited justifications conflated handmade cigar use with use of non-handmade cigars, and also repeatedly conflated tobacco use by adults as old as 25 or even 29 with those of minors (see: https://bit.ly/2dIDpan), almost certainly because of the lack of evidence that studies show that actual minors are using handmade cigars. Whether the FDA chooses to focus on public health overall or tobacco use by minors, regulation of handmade cigars does not serve that goal when compared to using the same taxpayer dollars elsewhere.

Finally, while we believe current overwhelming evidence should cause the FDA to leave handmade cigars out of its tobacco regulation regime, such a decision would not preclude the FDA from, should new evidence be produced or documented use patterns change, revisiting the issue at later date. Barring an act of Congress specifically exempting handmade cigars (there has been, and continues to be, wide bipartisan support for such an exemption), the FDA will still retain such regulatory powers to be deployed later under the Tobacco Control Act.

When it comes to the many tasks given to the FDA by Congress, whether for tobacco regulations or other public health goals, regulating the small percentage of tobacco products that constitute handmade cigars at this time cannot advance the FDA’s larger goals of risk reduction and overall public health compared to deploying the FDA’s limited resources elsewhere. Therefore, we ask the FDA to eliminate its current regulations of handmade cigars.

Patrick A & Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina No. 1 Robusto

23 Jul 2018

This is the second of La Palina’s debut offerings in its Numbers line that I’ve reviewed. There was no reason that I went in reverse order, it just happened that way.

While the two lines share a modernistic approach to packaging and presentation, the cigars themselves are quite different.

The No. 1 is a four-country blend: Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Costa Rican binder, and Nicaraguan and Honduran filler tobaccos. Like the No. 2, it comes in four sizes, though they aren’t all the same dimensions. The No. 1 Robusto is a 5.5-inch parejo with a ring gauge of 50 (the No. 2 Robusto has a 52 ring gauge), and it retails for $9.50.

My first impression came from the smooth wrapper’s enticing pre-light aroma. To me, it seemed a little like perfume, making me wonder what I’d experience when I lit it.

I tasted none of the perfume. What I did find initially was a little spice, and a little bite—not the pepper often associated with Nicaraguan tobacco. Farther into the smoke I got leather, some sweetness, and pepper on the retrohale.

There was a nice balance to the flavors throughout. Strength was firmly in the medium range. Rolled at the Plascencia factory in Honduras, each of the Robustos I smoked for this review performed perfectly. The burn was sharp, the ash tight, the draw just right, and the smoke production excellent.

La Palina has been an interesting company since Bill Paley revived the brand in 2010 by introducing a high-end, high-priced cigar at a flashy New York party. Since, Paley has significantly expanded his offerings to include a wide range of cigars that run the gamut of strength, size, and price.

The Numbers line is yet another addition and one well worth trying. I rate the No. 1 Robusto three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys