Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 422

20 Mar 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.

Harrahs New Orleans1) Harrah’s Casino is in the midst of a “last-ditch” effort to gain an exemption from New Orleans’ smoking ban, which goes into effect April 22. “In a press release issued March 18, Harrah’s said it will request a smoking section on its gambling floor while promising ‘to offer programs to make patrons and employees aware of the dangers of smoking and programs to quit smoking,’” according to The Times-Picayune. “The company said it plans to shop this proposal to City Council members in the next few days… Harrah’s rehashed its argument that banning smoking on its gambling floor would run off a large number of its customers, reduce its revenue, and cut yearly sales tax collections by $500,000. It also claimed the law could jeopardize the $3.6 million in gambling money the state sends to the city to cover some public safety and sanitation costs and another $13.6 million in annual lease payments the casino pays to New Orleans.” Notably, New Orleans is the host site of the next International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association Trade Show in July.

2) Viaje Cigar Co., which took a break last year from issuing its annual Summerfest cigar, is planning its return this summer. According to the company, noted for small batch and seasonal releases, the 2015 Summerfest will have a new blend and a new manufacturer. Summerfest was released annually from 2010 through 2013 in a single size each year, with all but the first having a shaggy foot.

3) Inside the Industry: Eric Piras has entered into a partnership with Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars & Azan Tobacco Group. A French national based in Hong Kong, Piras has nearly 20 years of experience in sales and marketing in the cigar industry. Piras is formerly of Altadis (later acquired by Imperial Tobacco Group), where he strengthened distribution channels. “I am thrilled to have Eric Piras on our team,” said Roberto Pelayo Duran in a press release. “His global network is enormous and diverse. I am very confident that with Eric on board we will be able to expand Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars & Azan Tobacco Group brands into new markets around the world.”

4) Deal of the Week: This Silver Tray Sampler features 5 cigars for just $25 with free shipping. Included are the Hex Perfecto, BG Meyer Standard Issue Toro, E.P. Carrillo Cardinal 54 Maduro, Kristoff Sumatra Robusto, and Gran Vida Connecticut Corona.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Crux Passport Half Corona

19 Mar 2015

crux-passport-scThis little cigar makes quite a first impression: tight pigtail cap, unfinished foot, oily wrapper, and warm barnyard aroma.crux-pass-sq

And when you begin smoking, it more than lives up to the pre-light promise. Whether you’re looking for a lunchtime smoke, a cold (or hot) weather shortie, or just a small vitola to fit your schedule, Crux’s Passport Half Corona delivers.

The dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper covers Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, and the combination results in a relatively strong, tasty cigar. In addition to rich tobacco flavors, the most prominent others I found were coffee, chocolate, and some pepper.

One of five sizes in the Passport line rolled by Plasencia, the Half Corona is 4 inches long with a ring gauge of 42. MSRP is $5.99, and it comes in 20-count boxes.

Other than a bit of a tight draw on one of the five samples sent to me by Crux, construction and performance were solid. As with most smaller cigars, it’s essential to smoke slowly and not draw too deeply so you’ll avoid overheating the tobacco.

When I reviewed the Passport Lancero, almost a year ago, Crux cigars could be found in only a handful of shops. Today, the site lists scores of retailers in more than 30 states that carry the brand.

I wondered how the small operation was being affected by its growing acceptance in the market and checked with Jeff Haugen, who is Crux brand and Tobacco Grove co-owner. “Yes, demand has been exceeding supply,” he emailed me. “We have adapted and changed our production schedule to keep up with demand. We will continue to do this as long as the quality stays consistent.”

The Passport Half Corona is well worth seeking out. I liked it even more than the Lancero and give it four stogies out of five.

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

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cubanacan Soneros Habano Maduro Corona Gorda

18 Mar 2015

Back in January, I was introduced to Cubanacan—a cigar company with a name that means “where fertile land is abundant”—via the Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gorda. I really enjoyed that cigar, and was therefore eager to try the subject of today’s review: the Cubanacan Soneros Habano Maduro Corona Gorda. Even with my high expectations, I would not be disappointed.

Soneros1As a reminder, Cubanacan began growing its own tobacco in Nicaragua in 2006, and shortly thereafter established the Tabacalera Cubanacan factory in Estelí. There, six distinct blends are handmade under the supervision of master blender Omar González Alemán: Cubanacan Connecticut, Cubanacan Habano, Cubanacan Maduro, HR Habano 2000, Soneros Maduro, and Soneros Habano Claro.

Like the Soneros Habano Claro, the Maduro also comes in the same five vitolas: Campana, Corona Gorda, Gran Robusto, Petit Sublime, and Toro. The two blends also share the same tobacco makeup—Habano Ecuadorian wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan filler. The difference, obviously, is the Habano Maduro is wrapped in a dark Ecuadorian Maduro leaf.

I sampled two Soneros Habano Maduro Corona Gordas (5.625 x 46) for this review, both of which were provided by Cubanacan. They retail for $7.75 and come complete with oily, toothy wrappers, well-executed caps, and rich pre-light notes of dark chocolate and earth. Aside from the wrapper color, it’s easy to tell the Maduro apart from the Claro; the former has a red band, while the latter is black.

As I said in my review of the Habano Claro, I personally love this Corona Gorda size. I would probably choose its dimensions (or some rough approximation thereof) if I were pressed to divulge my favorite cigar format right now. The slender frame is a nice departure from the (regrettable) trend toward thicker smokes, and the length means you have plenty of time to enjoy the flavor—but the whole experience won’t be overstaying its welcome.

Speaking of the experience, the Habano Maduro Corona Gorda starts with a profile that includes coffee, oak, and cream—not dissimilar to the Habano Claro. However, the Maduro quickly differentiates itself with the additions of black cherry and cocoa. I’d characterize the body as medium to medium-full, especially as a hearty does of espresso enters around the midway point. The texture is leathery, and the resting smoke is incredibly sweet. Construction is virtually perfect. Both of my samples exhibited straight burn lines, solid gray ashes, smooth draws with just the right amount of resistance, and above-average smoke production.

A Habano Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper is, at least to me, a different take on the Maduro concept, and one I definitely appreciate. The Soneros Habano Maduro Corona Gorda is another strong effort from Cubanacan, and one that’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2015-1 ‘Big Man, Small Batch’ Limited Edition

17 Mar 2015

Considering its wide availability, bold barrel-proof flavors, and consistent quality, I’ve always felt Booker’s Bourbon was a bit underrated. Now, for better or worse, I think the marketing department at Jim Beam has finally caught on. (Beam makes Booker’s along with the rest of the Small Batch Collection: Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden.)

bookers-bigman-smallbatchLast month Beam announced a “new collection” of limited edition Booker’s releases, the first of which would be called “Big Man, Small Batch,” which pays homage to the late Booker Noe, one of the biggest personalities in the bourbon business. For those looking for this or future limited edition releases, the packaging features a different, larger batch label with an illustration, and the box is stained a darker brown, whereas regular releases (including Roundtable releases) will continue in the lighter, natural wood boxes.

Unlike last year’s 25th Anniversary, the age statement of this first limited edition is within the normal 6-8 years for Booker’s. Specifically, “Big Man, Small Batch” (Batch No. 2015-01) is 7 years, 2 months, and 16 days old. It’s bottled at 128.7-proof (64.35% ABV). At least in Virginia state liquor stores, it sells for the same price as regular release Booker’s: $59.

As you’d expect, it’s a full-bodied bourbon in the Booker’s tradition with a bold nose of caramel and vanilla. On the palate there’s more vanilla, peanut butter, and salted caramel. Only on the finish does the high-proof heat come through, along with vanilla and oak.

To test out Big Man Small Batch, I tasted it side by side with two other Booker’s bottles: a 6-year-old batch No. C06-K-8 bottled at 130.4-proof, and batch No. 2014-6, a Roundtable Batch aged 7 years, 2 months, and 14 days, and bottled at 127.7-proof. (Roundtable Batches, selected with the input of various bourbon writers, don’t have any special packaging and can only be identified by the batch number.)

The six-year-old has a bit more sharpness and resinous wood. The Roundtable Batch is more refined and closer to the Big Man, Small Batch in profile, which makes sense given the very similar age statement and proof, but it doesn’t have the toffee-like richness of this first limited release.

So as long as Booker’s sells this and future limited edition Booker’s at the same price as the regular batches, it’s easy to recommend to those who enjoy full-bodied, high-proof bourbons. I, for one, am looking forward to future Booker’s releases from this line, and filings last year for label approvals suggest there may be many coming.

As for cigars, all Booker’s releases call for the same thing: a full-bodied smoke. The RoMaCraft CromagnonArturo Fuente Opus X, EO 601 Serie “Blue”, and La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero all fit the bill.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Exactus Puro Ambar Short Robusto

16 Mar 2015

ExactusWho doesn’t love lighting up a new cigar about which you know virtually nothing and ending up a fan?

That’s exactly what happened to me with this Dominican puro. It hooked me from the beginning with jalapeño pepper, a bit reminiscent of the old Pepín-blended 601 Reds. After that, the flavors shifted to include some gentler spice, earth, and leather, even a bit of sweetness as the pepper reemerged more in the final third.

Exactus comes from Tabacalera El Artista, which was introduced to me by marketing manager Jonás Santana, who also sent me samples of the Puro Ambar line and its sibling, Puro Ambar Legacy. The company was founded in 1956 and now produces over 7 million cigars annually worldwide, including its own brands.

Blending work on Puro Ambar began in early 2013 and it was released at last year’s IPCPR Trade Show, Santana told me. It comes in two sizes: the Short Robusto (4.75 x 54) that I smoked, and a Short Coloso (5.5 x 60). Retail prices are about $7 and $8.

The Puro Ambar blend is an interesting one. The wrapper is called T13 and listed as an exclusive to Tabacalera El Arista. The binder is a wine-fermented Criollo ’98, with the filler comprising Criollo ’98 and Tabacalera El Arista’s Criollo 1900.

Santana sent me three samples. I smoked two and plan to pass the third along at my local B&M with the suggestion that they consider carrying the line. (The Exactus site has an interactive display of retailers who carry its cigars.)

Construction generally was fine, especially the draw. I did have to do a couple of relights on each stick, primarily, I think, because the thick wrapper was prone to going out when sitting, even briefly. The burn was, nonetheless, even and slow, producing lots of smoke.

If you like bold, spicy cigars, this is one to try. I rate this a strong four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione Singulare Rose Croix LE 2013

15 Mar 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.”illusione-sq


My recent five-stogie rating of the 2014 Illusione Singulare prompted me to see how the 2013 Illusione Singulare was smoking. Much as I like the Anunnaki, the Rose Croix is a size (7 x 46) that, in general, I prefer. Age hasn’t hurt the Rose Croix, although I’m not sure it has improved much either, which is sort of a surprise given how much the 2010 Illusione Singulare improved with time. Still, it’s a tasty medium- to full-bodied cigar with woodiness, coffee, leather, and a slight metallic note. It’s still a fine cigar, but age hasn’t, at least yet, improved this elegant smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Guayacan Maduro Toro

14 Mar 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.”

Guayacan Maduro 1

After recently reviewing—and sincerely enjoying—the Sabor de Estelí Habano Robusto from Guayacan, I decided to take another Noel Rojas creation for a test drive: the Guayacan Maduro Toro (6 x 52). Made at Rojas’ Tabacalera Aromas de Jalapa factory in Nicaragua, the Maduro line features a Criollo-seed San Andrés wrapper around Corojo tobaccos. It starts with notes of pepper and campfire, then adds hints of cream, peanut, and just a little cocoa along the way. Construction is excellent. This Toro runs about $9.50. I enjoyed it, but I think it’s a little overpriced and not nearly as enjoyable as the Sabor de Estelí Habano blend.

Verdict = Hold.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys