Cigar Spirits: Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection Bourbon

20 Nov 2014

This isn’t a normal Spirits write-up. Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection isn’t just one bourbon, but a barrel selection program. More details in a minute. But instead of burying the lead, it’ll come right out with it: If you want some really good bourbon you can actually find at a reasonable price, seek out Four Roses Private Barrel Selections.

four-roses-private-barrel-selection-csThe more you get into bourbon, the more you find hype. There are lots of good bourbons (and ryes) out there, but many of the limited offerings are increasingly hard to find. Pappy, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, even Handy), rare Willett offerings, A.H. Hirsch… they are all outstanding. They’re also hard to find, and usually wildly expensive (hundreds of dollars or more).

Even American whiskey bottles that weren’t all that hard to find a year or two ago (Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Weller 12, Weller Antique 107, even Elmer T. Lee) are now becoming difficult to find. That makes a limited and tasty, yet readily available, bourbon a real gem.

Four Roses makes bourbon differently from most other distilleries. While most bourbons use one single recipe (mashbill and yeast combination), Four Roses mixes 10 recipes into its standard Yellow Label bourbon. (The small batch has four of those bourbons in an undisclosed ratio.) This unique approach gives Four Roses a far wider library of aging bourbon barrels than most places.

And thankfully, Four Roses makes those barrels available for its Private Barrel program. Here’s how it works: A retailer, distributor, or even a bar can select a single barrel from ten or so samples they recieve from Four Roses. They might specify the recipe they want, but ultimately they choose the bourbon that is bottled (usually between 9 and 12 years) as their private selection through tasting. That means every Private Barrel Selection was at least selected as the best of a handful of barrels. So if you find a retailer who really knows their stuff, you’ll likely end up with a pretty tasty selection.

I’ve had a half-dozen of these in recent years, selected by stores in Kentucky, Texas, California, and D.C. and each has been excellent. Each recipe has different characteristics, and each barrel is unique. I’ve yet to find a dud. At $50-70 per bottle, it’s a solid value, especially given the ever-increasing prices of rare bourbon.

Each is bottled at barrel-proof without being diluted, which usually means 110-proof or often higher. Each unique barrel has its own character, so suggesting a cigar pairing is difficult, but you’ll definitely want a flavorful, full-bodied cigar.

As for which bottles to pick up, I have two suggestions. First, take a look at the description of each of the ten recipes Four Roses makes and decide which ones sound the best. Second, find a retailer who knows their bourbon and can pick a good barrel. Do that and you’ll end up with some of the best bourbon you can find.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: A.J. Fernandez Fallen Angel Robusto

19 Nov 2014

A.J. Fernandez is one of the most respected cigar makers in the world. And deservedly so. He has one of the best résumés you could hope to come across in the industry.

Fallen Angel RobustoBorn in Cuba, Fernandez worked with the late Alejandro Robaina, Cuba’s foremost producer of top wrapper leaves and the namesake of the Vegas Robaina brand. Fernandez quickly gained fame making cigars for other companies including Rocky Patel, Padilla, Graycliff, and Gurkha, as well as crafting exclusive cigars for catalog giant Cigars International (for whom he makes Diesel, Man O’ War, La Herencia, and others.) Then, in 2010, he introduced his first solo national brand, San Lotano, which became a hit.

These days, Fernandez’s portfolio includes Pinolero, Mayimbe, New World, and five different San Lotano blends. He also has a line called Fallen Angel, which features an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper from the highest priming available around Nicaraguan tobaccos.

There are five Fallen Angel vitolas sold in the affordable $6-8 range: Churchill (7 x 48), Double Toro (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), Torpedo (6 x 52), and Robusto (5 x 52). The latter—gifted to me by the fine folks at CigarsFor.Me—is box-pressed with a clean, moderately oily wrapper that’s almost vein-free. The cap is executed well, the seams are barely noticeable, and the pre-light notes remind me of dry earth and milk chocolate.

As I set the light, I notice the draw is a little stiff. Still, once the foot is burning evenly, each puff seems to yield ample smoke. Once underway, a medium-bodied profile emerges with notes of oak, black pepper, and a syrupy sweetness. I find the flavor balanced and pleasing, though not terribly complex.

After an inch, a spicy aftertaste of cinnamon and cedar introduces itself—just in time to pique my interest after a start that’s, frankly, a little lackluster. Tastes of cream and pecan join the fray at the midway point. The final third is characterized by more intensity and more spice, though I can’t say the Robusto ever leaves the medium-bodied spectrum.

Throughout, the physical properties are exactly what you’d expect from Tabacalera Fernandez in Estelí: superb. The white ash holds incredibly well, the burn never requires so much as a touch-up, and the draw opens nicely after the first few puffs.

This is not A.J. Fernandez’s finest cigar, and I doubt it will amaze anyone. That said, it’s tasty, well-built, and affordable. You might consider keeping a few on hand for an afternoon complement to coffee, or to share with guests who are infrequent cigar smokers (this is a very approachable smoke). Overall, I rate the Fallen Angel Robusto three stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The Truth About Cigar Studies

18 Nov 2014


By now, you’ve probably heard or read about the findings of a new long-term study of cigar smoking that generated headlines like this one from Fox News: “Cigars just as harmful to health as cigarettes, study says.” Well, don’t toss your Davidoffs in the dustbin just yet.

A closer look inside the numbers, along with some helpful responses from the study’s lead researcher, show that the results aren’t nearly that clear for those of us who enjoy premium, hand-rolled, all-tobacco cigars.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the study made no distinction between those who smoke machine-made cigars and those who smoke premium cigars. In fact, that information wasn’t even collected in the survey of 25,522 subjects for the 1999-2012 National Health Nutrition and Examination Survey, Dr. Jiping Chen, an epidemiologist in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, told me in an email.

Consequently, there was also no consideration of differences in smoking, such as inhaling/not inhaling or the frequency of consumption, Dr. Chen said. “No information was collected in the study on the types of cigars smoked or reasons why cigars were smoked.”

So, someone who sucks down a half-dozen White Owls a day is a “cigar smoker,” the same as someone who lights up an Arturo Fuente Hemingway once a week. “All cigar smokers were treated as a single group,” Dr. Chen said of the survey that was the basis for the cigar study.

This is important because, without getting overly technical, the study compared levels of five “biomarkers”—substances scientists use to measure things like disease or environmental exposure—found in cigar smokers and non-smokers. To get the measurements for cigar smokers, she said, researchers took “the average levels of biomarkers of all cigar smokers.”

Now, to put that in perspective, bear in mind there are roughly 350 million premium cigars sold annually in the United States. Machine-made cigars are sold in the billions. In other words, the premium cigar market is just a tiny fraction of the cigar market.

So it stands to reason that the cigar-smoking group in the study would be vastly tilted toward those who smoke machine-made cigars, and it’s also as likely that an overwhelming percentage of them utilize cigars as do those who smoke cigarettes—as a nicotine delivery system, not for enjoyment, as do most premium-cigar smokers.

Averaging things like this can be dangerous. If, for example, you take the average of Bill Gates’ assets and my assets, we both appear to be very wealthy men.

One other point from the research that I find worth noting is the fact that there was no assessment of the impact of the 2009 SCHIP tax increases. Those undoubtedly led an unknown number of cigarette smokers to turn to machine-made “cigars” because they were taxed at a lower rate and offered a cheaper alternative. To my mind, while these people may now be classified as cigar smokers, they’re really cigarette smokers under a different name.

This contention was at least partly supported, I think, by findings that cigar smokers who were former cigarette smokers had higher levels of the two biomarkers found only in tobacco than did those who hadn’t smoked cigarettes before.

Now, let’s be honest. I don’t think anyone could reasonably dispute the notion that if you smoke cigars like cigarettes you’re almost certainly engaging in the same highly risky behavior as a cigarette smoker. And I can’t imagine that, in this day and age, that would surprise anybody. But that isn’t even remotely the way nearly all of us who smoke premium cigars actually smoke them. We don’t inhale, we don’t smoke all day long, and we aren’t addicted to nicotine.

We do recognize that there is some added danger to smoking premium cigars, but we also know that it is relatively small, and it’s a risk we’re willing to take. Just as we willingly take many other risks in our lives to do things we enjoy.

And as the FDA continues to consider its position on regulating cigars—and whether to grant an exemption for premium cigars—the distinctions I’ve pointed out could make a world of difference. It would be more than a shame for this research to help derail the efforts to secure that exemption because I believe it clearly isn’t applicable.

One bright spot in all this is that the very helpful FDA press officer who helped arrange my email exchange with Dr. Chen told me she will forward this to those involved in the consideration of cigar regulations.

Hopefully, they’ll read it and reach the right conclusion.

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Salvation Toro

17 Nov 2014

Once again I will be eating my words at the beginning of this review. When I reviewed the Swag Black, I laughed at the name—until I realized it’s actually a solid cigar. Well, with the Black Label Trading Company Salvation I did the same thing.

BLTC Salvation ToroWhen my cigar shop ordered these, we were sent decals and patches with the Black Label logo, and I couldn’t help thinking they were trying to appeal to a hard-rock/biker group of smokers. Which, to clarify, is not a bad thing. I just don’t like gimmicky marketing. So, anyway, I began working my way through the six different lines in Black Label’s portfolio, and each time I had to admit to myself I should not have written these off based on appearance.

Today, I’d like to talk specifically about the Black Label Trading Company Salvation Toro. Toros are not a size I traditionally enjoy, but with all the fantastic box-pressed Toros that have been released this year, I find the vitola growing on me, in both the box-pressed and standard parejo formats.

The Salvation Toro features a beautiful, reddish-brown Ecuadorian sun-grown Habano wrapper, tightly rolled around a Honduras binder with Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nothing matches the aesthetic appeal of a sun-grown wrapper to me. This cigar has a slight oil to it with a nice natural sheen that makes it catch your eye.

I smoked three Toros for this review. I cut two with my standard guillotine cutter, and V-cut another. I did not notice a difference from either cutting method; both produced a nice amount of smoke on an easy, slightly tight draw. In terms of consistency, I did notice that the third cigar got harsh in the last third, which did not happen in the other smokes. But I am not sure if this was the fault of the cigar, the lighter, the storage, or some other variable.

The flavor from cigar to cigar was consistent—an attribute I expect from a $10 stick. There is nothing worse than loving a single, picking up a five-pack, and being disappointed by the rest.

The flavor starts off as a solid, medium-bodied, leathery experience, with the nice light earth and natural tobacco flavors that sun-grown wrappers normally carry. As the cigar develops, it gains a unique, pleasant herbal spice on the retrohale, almost like an Italian spice mix. It’s a really cool taste that becomes the forefront for the second half of the smoking experience. As the cigar finishes, a lot of the leather comes back, and the body and flavor step up to medium- to full-bodied for the final inch or so.

This is a very enjoyable cigar, and would serve as a great introduction to the Black Label Trading Company. Like all Black Label products—including Redeption—only 1,000 boxes of Salvation are being produced. So, while they certainly are not as rare as some smokes, they are not available everywhere. If you do find one, be sure to pick this stick up. You’ll find a unique, albeit non-complex, flavor at a $10 price point that stands up to most of its competition. Overall, this cigar scores four stogies out of five.

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

-Joey J

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buenaventura BV 560

16 Nov 2014

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.”

Want a recommendation for a good cigar for under $5? The Curivari Buenaventura BV 560 (if you shop around you can get a box of 10 for under $50) fits the bill. With a simple band and a matte wrapper, the Nicaraguan puro doesn’t look fancy. But don’t let that fool you. The medium-bodied, box-pressed smoke features the two things I most want in a cigar: balance and complexity. The multi-level flavors include milk chocolate, coffee, bread, and cedar. Combine that with solid construction and you get a very solid buy.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Emilio AF1 Corona

15 Nov 2014

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.”

Emilio AF1 Corona

Ever been disappointed by an AF1 from Emilio? Me either. This Corona (5.5 x 44) would be no exception. Made in Estelí by A.J. Fernandez—for whom the cigar is also named—the blend sports a dark, toothy San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos. The balanced, full-bodied flavors include black pepper, espresso, and creamy nut. The texture is thick and leathery. This is my favorite size in the AF1 portfolio, and well worth the reasonable asking price of about $6.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 407

14 Nov 2014

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.

Pactum1) Smoke Inn has announced the ninth installment in its Microblend Series: Pactum, which is crafted by Illusione specifically for the Florida-based cigar retailer. Pactum will be offered in a single, lightly box-pressed size (5.5 x 56) and feature a Mexican Maduro wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos. Starting on December 6, it will be sold for $8.95 for a single, or $134.25 for a box of 15. Previous participants in Smoke Inn’s Microblend Series include 601, Room 101, Arturo Fuente, Tatuaje, My Father, and Padrón.

2) Drew Estate recently announced an exclusive manufacturing agreement with Pappy & Company, maker of the impossibly hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Drew Estate—which is in the process of being acquired by Swisher International—will craft the so-called “Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve” cigar in Estelí. “It’s a well-rounded, sophisticated cigar, with body and a hearty expression,” says Jonathan Drew. “Drew Estate is known for passion and innovation, and making premium cigars is our ‘raison d’être’ [reason to be]. The ‘Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve’ premium cigar is truly a showcase of our passion for cigar-making.”

3) Smoking Freedoms Update: In Vermont, Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace will now prohibit smoking. The Nebraska Supreme Court has decided not to reconsider a statewide ban on smoking inside cigar shops and cigar bars. In New Jersey, legislation has been signed to ban smoking in Newark’s parks and recreational facilities. The North Dakota town of Fargo has criminalized smoking at city parks.

4) Deal of the Week: Famous Smoke Shop has a variety of coupons available ranging from free shipping or humidification solution to samplers or even free boxes. The coupons can be combined with sale items, or even constantly updating Cigar Monster deals.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Smoke Inn