--> Cigar Coop: August 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Press Release: Jose Blanco Named Senior Vice President of Joya de Nicaragua

After he retired from La Aurora a little over two months ago, a lot of people wondered how long Jose Blanco would be a free agent in the cigar industry.  Today Joya de Nicaragua is the big winner in the Jose Blanco sweepstakes.

Blanco will report directly into Joya de Nicaragua's owner Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca.  Blanco will also relocate from the Dominican Republic to Nicaragua.

An official press release was released today and it can be read on the Joya de Nicaragua website.  This contains more details on the announcement and what Blanco's role will be.

Click here to read the official press release.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Edgar M Cullman Sr.

Edgar M Cullman, Source: Culbro.com
Edgar M Cullman, former chairman, chief executive, and president of the General Cigar Company passed away at his home in Stamford Connecticut on Sunday August 28th.  He was 93 years old.

While we talk a lot about cigar industries being family-owned small business operations, Cullman came from a different angle.   He was one of the rarer "captains of industry" that existed in the cigar world.   However, make no bones about it - Cullman's roots come from a family that has been long connected with the business. 

Cullman's great-grandfather Ferdinand Kullman was originally a tobacco and wine merchant from Germany who came to the United States in the 1840s.  Ferdinand’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, owned and founded Cullman Brothers, a tobacco brokerage house. . Edgar’s father, Joseph Cullman Jr. was a grower as well as a tobacco importer.   He owned large lots of lands in the cigar tobacco wrapper rich Connecticut River Valley.  Joseph Jr. also eventually acquired cigarette company Benson & Hedges and would eventually sell it to Philip Morris.  Cullman's brother, Joseph Cullman III also served as chairman of Philip Morris.

Cullman, whose roots were clearly grounded in the tobacco industry would work with a group of investors and acquire General Cigars.   In 1962 he was elected president and CEO of General Cigars.  For the next two decades, Cullman built General into one of the largest cigar companies in the industry.  Under his leadership, General Cigars acquired Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, and Partagas.  Cullman is also responsible for the launching of the Macanudo brand - a brand that became on of the biggest in the industry.  He also diversified the companies portfolio getting into non-tobacco products such as real estate, Bachman snack foods, Ex-Lax, and more.  As part of the expanded portfolio, the company became known as Culbro.

Cullman would remain president until 1981.  He remain and chairman and chief Executive eventually giving up the Chairman duties when Culbro sold its cigar holdings to Swedish Match.

A lot of people credit Cullman for expanding the appeal of cigars into the mainstream - including introducing cigars to a young adult audience.  From talking to people who met Cullman, there was no doubt that he was passionate about the cigar industry.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cigar Review: Viaje Skull and Bones Little Boy (Part 50 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

Over all of the micro-batch releases from Viaje, probably the most sought after has been Viaje Skull and Bones' series.  The initial release of the Skull and Bones Viaje Daisy Cutter set off a frenzy for cigar enthusiasts seeking to add this cigar to their collection.   While the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR #5, got a lot of attention from Cigar Aficionado after being named the #2 Cigar for 2011 - make no "bones" about it, the buzz among cigar enthusiasts from Viaje has been the Skull and Bones.  Following the initial release of the Daisy Cutter, there have been three follow-up release cycles.  For the most part, a common theme has been that the second and third release cycles did not meet satisfaction level of the first release cycle.   We now enter the fourth release cycle and Viaje has released two vitolas for this cycle - the Little Boy and Fat Man.   The assessment will review the shortter and thinner  robusto - the Viaje Skull and Bones Little Boy.   In my opinion, this cigar proves to capture a lot of the magic that the Daisy Cutter became so famous for.

For the first two release cycles, the Skull and Bones was banded with a black and white band.   The third and fourth release cycles feature a red and black band.   The band colors are not the only difference as the red band (third and fourth release) cycles feature a blend variation that is stronger than the first two release cycles

This will be an extremely limited release.  I don't have the specifics on the number of boxes that Viaje has released, but I think its safe to assume that the Viaje authorized retailers may have one to two boxes maximum of this cigar.

Let's break down the Viaje Skull and Bones Little Boy and Fat Man and see what it brings to the table.

Blend Profile

In general, the folks at Viaje keep the blend close to the vest.  Being that the Little Boy (and Fat Man) is from the fourth release cycle, we know this uses the newer blend.   I do not have the specifics on what that change is in the new blend.   Here are the details of what I do know of the blend:

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Sun Grown Criollo
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

Here is a summary of the four release cycles.   With the exception of the MOAB, the Skull and Bones series has for the most been a series of short robustos.

First Release Cycle (Spring 2010)
Daisy Cutter: 4 x 54

Second Release Cycle (Fall 2010)
#2: 4 1/2 x 54

Third Release Cycle (Spring 2011)
WMD (Weapon Mass Destruction): 3 3/4 x 54
MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast): 4 1/4 x 54 (Torpedo)

Fourth Release Cycle (Summer 2011)
Little Boy: 4 1/4 x 52
Fat Man: 4 1/4 x 56

With the fourth release cycle, the cigars featured a cap on both ends of the cigar.

Capped foot of the Skull and Bones Little Boy
Preparation for the Cigar Experience

I placed a straight cut into the head of the Skull and Bones Little Boy cigar.   The wrapper had an oily texture to it and this reflected a lot on the pre-light draw.  The dry notes I got from the Skull and Bones Little Boy were leather and chocolate with virtually no spice.  With the oily wrapper, this was the pre-light draw I was expecting.  I then proceeded to light the foot of the Skull and Bones Little Boy.  I did not clip the footer and opted to toast the cigar with the cap on it. 

Flavor Profile

The initial draws of the Skull and Bones Little Boy continued the notes of leather and chocolate I got from the pre-light draw.  These notes were complemented by secondary notes of pepper.  Around the five percent point of the cigar experience, the chocolate notes morphed into more of a classic espresso note.

The flavor profile holds through the first third of the Skull and Bones Little Boy.  As the second third begins, the pepper notes began to increase in intensity.   The pepper meshed very well with the espresso and leather and did not becoming overwhelming during this part of the cigar experience.   The pepper finally breaks through in the final third and becomes the dominant flavor note.  The cigar finishes as a real pepper bomb.  While it was very spicy at the finish, the cigar was not harsh.  The nub was soft and cool - simply the way a cigar should close a cigar experience.

Burn and Draw

One complaint I've had with Viaje is that I often find their cigars are shipped to the retailers they are often a little green.  With Viaje I've seen this reflected in the ash (often more black) and the flavor profile.  The burn has often be jagged when the Viajes are green. For my sample of the Skull and Bones Little Boy, I have had it for a little over a month, and this cigar seemed perfectly aged.  There were absolutely no burn issues as it burned very sharp at a cool temperature.  The burn rate was slow - which I liked for a short cigar.  I had a little more resistance on the draw than I would like, but it still wasn't a bad draw.

Strength and Body

The Skull and Bones Little Boy lives up to its reputation as being a full-strength cigar.   This cigar will definitely give you a buzz - especially in the second half of the smoke.  From a body standpoint, for the first 2/3 of the cigar, I thought the Skull and Bones Little Boy fell a little short from "full-bodied" and was more on the "medium to full" side.  The spicy end to the Skull and Bones in the last third definitely pulls the body into the "full" range.

Final Thoughts

The Skull and Bones Little Boy is not the most complex cigar, but it did provide some very good flavors.  If you like espresso and pepper flavors, this might be a cigar for you.  The fnish to this cigar may prove to be a little overwhelming to some - especially novice enthusiasts.  This was a cigar I did enjoy.  I'm not sure I would go through hoops to get this cigar, but if it were on a retailer's shelves, I certainly would purchase it.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Good
Complexity: Low
Strength: Full
Body: Medium to Full (first 2/3); Full (last third)
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: This sample was from Viaje Cigars via the 2011 IPCPR trade show..  These sample was initiated by Viaje Cigars in order to provide feedback.   I am appreciative for the sample, but in no way does this influence this review.

Note: All samples received from the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show will be included in my "2011 IPCPR Series"

Assessment Updates: La Palina El Diario, E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro, and PDR 1878 Reserva Dominicana Capa Habana

As you might have seen over the past few weeks, I've done some Pre-Reviews which allow me to document my experiences with a cigar and provide my thoughts. Some of these were pre-releases are now available generally - and others are simply cigars I've had more of a chance to try.  In each of these cases, I'd like to bring closure and provide a solid assessment rating.

Rather than repeat history, I've summarized the assessment rating and linked to the Pre-Review.

La Palina El Diario

La Palina El Diario
The bar was set high in 2011 for Bill Paley and his team at La Palina Cigars.  Last year, the Family Series proved to be nothing short of a home run delivering two cigars on in my Top 7 for Cigar of the Year.  This year, La Palina released El Diario.  The El Diario comes in at a lower price point, but maintains the high standards from a  La Palina cigar we became accustomed to last year.  The flavors of the El Diario are complex.  The El Diario is a stronger cigar than the Family Series, but it still provides the balance between cigar strength and cigar body that is often hard to achieve.

Here is a link to the Pre-Review I did on the La Palina El Diario.

Assessment: Memorable

E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro

E.P. Carrillo Maduro
It seems like everyone is trying to re-invent what a good maduro cigar is.  For Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and his team at E.P. Carrillo, he went back to basics - constructing a maduro that has lots of flavor, while still on the upper end of the strength spectrum.  EPC is known for some of the best constructed cigars in the industry - and the Core Line Maduro is no exception.


Here is a link to the Pre-Review I did on the E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro.

Assessment: Memorable

PDR 1878 Reserva Dominicana Capa Habana

PDR 1878 Reserva Dominicana Capa Habana
I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a box of these cigars before they were sold to the general public.  The Capa Habana is not the strongest cigar of Abe Flores' PDR 1878 line, but it has become my favorite in terms of flavor.  It's been three months since I wrote the initial pre-review on this cigar - and it was good then, but now it is even better.  Over this time period, I've noticed the cigar smoke smoother and the flavor notes more robust.

Here is a link to the Pre-Review I did on the PDR 1878 Reserva Dominicana Capa Habana.

Assessment: Nice to Have

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cigar Review: Viaje Platino Reserva VPR DT (Double Torpedo)

Viaje Platino Reserva VPR DT (Double Torpedo)
When it comes to Viaje, the line of cigars that probably is the best known among the general consumer base is the Oro line.  Most notably, the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR has become the best well-known because of its #2 rating by Cigar Aficionado magazine.   The Oro has a sibling line known as the Platino.   This series bears a resemblance to the Oro in physical appearance and in blend characteristics.   The big difference with the Platino line is that I consider it an "amp'd down" version of the Oro.   Recently, I provided an assessment of the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT (Double Torpedo).  In this assessment, I will provide information on its sibling - the Viaje Platino Reserva VPR DT.  This cigar proves to be a nice alternative to its stronger Oro sibling.

The VPR DT is a new vitola in the Viaje Platino Reserva series.   The previous release was the Viaje Platino Reserva No .6.   This was a box-press toro-sized vitola.  The VPR DT is a double-torpedo vitola and it was released simultaneously with its Oro countepart (the VOR DT). Like the VOR DT, the original word on the VPR DT was that this was going to be a limited release.  However, Andre Farkas was quoted in Cigar Aficionado as stating this will be a "regular production cigar".  Now how many cigars will be produced on an annual basis is still something to be determined.

Finally, when it comes to the Oro and Platino, it is usually easy to tell the difference between the two because the Oro has a gold ribbon and the Platino has a silver ribbon.  With the Reserva edition of these cigars, it becomes more challenging to tell the difference.  You basically have to look closely at the Viaje logo and if you see gold in it, it is the Viaje Oro Reserva (VOR).  If you see silver in it, it is the Viaje Platino Reserva (VPR).

Blend Profile

Like the VPR DT is an all-Nicaraguan puro.  Like the Reserva blend of the Oro series, the VPR is a variation of Viaje's Platino line.  The difference is that it contains slightly different in older leaf and aged ligero in the tobacco.   Now as far as the Viaje Platino Reserva VPR DT goes, while the blend may seem identical to the Viaje Oro Reserva DT, it does not have as much strength and body - thus it is "amp'd down".

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo 99
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

Here are the two vitolas of the VPR blend.  It is worth noting the original #6 is now a very difficult cigar to find and not one in regular production.

VPR No. 6: 6 x 50 (box-press)
VPR DT: 5 3/4 z 52 (double torpedo)

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

Since the VPR DT is a double-torpedo, I defaulted to a straight cut.  When I commenced the pre-light draw, I detected a mix of cocoa and grass notes.  I considered the dry draw to be average - i.e. not bad, but not having me do handstands.  It was then on to fire up the VPR DT and see what else would come to the table.

Flavor Profile

The VPR DT yielded some spice right out of the gate.  The spices can be best summarized as a combination of white pepper and cedar.  I soon noticed the spices diminish and notes of nut, coffee, and cream emerge.  One thing I noticed off the bat was that not only did the VPR seem "amp'd down" in terms of strength, but the flavor notes had less body as well.

At the cigar experience moved through the first half, the nut flavors moved into the forefront.  In addition to the coffee and cream, I did detect some acidic citrus notes in the background.   Once I passed the halfway point of the VPR,  I noticed a return of the white pepper/cedar spice.   The spices never quite pushed out the nut flavors and the spices would hold secondary right until the close of the cigar.   Overall, the finish was pleasant and not harsh.  The nub was soft and lukewarm.

Burn and Draw

While I had some burn issues with my VOR DT, the VPR DT did not cause as many burn issues.  I believe this is because the VPR DT had more age in the humidor.   I would have liked to have done less touch-ups on the VPR DT.  There were no issues with the burn rate and burn temperature as these were ideal for a cigar experience.  The draw was ideal as well.  I normally don't care for torpedo vitolas, but this one drew very well.

Strength and Body

Yes, the VPR DT is a notch down in strength and body.   The VPR DT is not going to be a nicotine bomb like other cigars in the Viaje line, and it is definitely assessed as medium.  As for the body, the depth of the flavor notes is not quite where it was for the VOR DT.  For the majority of the smoke of the VPR DT, I assess this as a medium with a medium to full at the close.

Final Thoughts

One might think because the flavor notes are not as deep in the VPR DT as the VOR DT that this might be an inferior cigar.   I did not find that the case with the VPR DT.  The adjustment in the strength for the VPR balanced out this cigar perfectly.   While I wouldn't categorize this a a true "smooth" smoke, it is still one of those smokes that is good when you don't want something too powerful.   I have stated that I am not a fan of torpedo vitolas.   When it came to the VOR series, I preferred the VOR #5 box-press robusto over the VOR DT (Double Torpedo).  While I didn't try the VPR #6 Toro, I do believe I would have preferred that vitola over the double torpedo.   Overall, a cigar I wouldn't mind having again - and one that I do think can appeal to novice and experienced enthusiasts.

Summary

Burn: Good
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium (Medium to Full at the end)
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: This cigars for this assessment were purchased from Outland Cigars in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cigar Review: Tatuaje La Verite 2009

Tatuaje La Verite 2009
Back in July, I put up a cigar assessment on the Tatuaje L'Esprit de Verite 2009.  This was part of the second blend of Tatuaje's La Verite Vintage series.  The La Verite Vintage Series uses the concept of harvesting  tobaccos from a single farm from a single year to produce a cigar blend.  This is similar to what is in the wine industry by using a single year's crop from a single vineyard.  The first release, the 2008 series was done in two vitolas -a Churchill and Robusto.   For the follow-up release, the 2009 release - there are also two vitolas.  This assessment will focus on the 2009 Churchill simply called the Tatuaje La Verite 2009.  In my opinion, this is the better release of the 2009 series.

There will be times I am going to draw comparisons to the robusto size blend - the Tatuaje L'Esprit de Verite 2009. While I felt the Tatuaje L'Esprit de Verite 2009 had good flavors, it lacked complexity.  I  was told the La Verite 2009 Churchill had some more strength and body than the  L'Esprit de Verite 2009 Robusto (which was medium to full in strength and medium in body in my book).  Therefore, I was curious to see if the La Verite 2009 lived up to what I was told.

Let's break down the La Verite 2009 cigar into some more detail:

Blend Profile/Vitolas Available

An important point to note about the 2009 La Verite Vintage series is that there are variations on the blend based on the vitolas.  I wouldn't categorize it as a major variation, but nonetheless it is still a variation.   Therefore, I am combining the "Blend Profile" and "Vitolas Available" section into one.  The variance in the blend comes in the proportions of the tobaccos in the filler.

While the 2008 version was all La Estrella Habano Criollo, the 2009 blends have additional tobaccos.  These tobaccos still come from the La Estrella farm in Esteli Nicaragua.  The names might be a little confusing - the Churchill has the shorter name and that's the one I'll be assessing here.

La Verite 2009 (7 x 47 - Churchill)
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Binder: La Estrella Habano Criolla 98
Filler Nicaraguan Habano (45 percent), Criollo 98 (40 percent), Pele D'Oro (15 percent)

L'Esprit de Verite 2009 (5 x 50 - Robusto)
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Binder: La Estrella Habano Criolla 98
Filler Nicaraguan Habano (50 percent), Criollo 98 (40 percent), Pele D'Oro (10 percent)

For the L'Esprit de Verite 2009, the plan is for 20,000 cigars to be produced.  For the La Verite 2009, the plan is for 30,000 cigars to be produced.

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

To start the cigar experience, I opted for a straight cut into the Churchill-size La Verite 2009.  The pre-light draw provided some cedar spice that had more of a feel of classic pepper on the after-draw. Like its robusto cousin, the L'Esprit de Verite 2009 - I did not categorize the dry draw as robust, but it was satisfactory.   It was on to light this cigar and see what came flavors would come to the table.

Flavor Profile

The initial start to the cigar provided a mix of cedar notes and raw honey.  There were some secondary notes of  cherry and wood.  The honey notes moved to the forefront quickly.  Around 10 percent into the cigar experience, I detected some pepper on the after-draw (similar to what I found on the pre-light draw).

In the second third, I saw the emergence of citrus notes.  I categorized these citrus notes to be grapefruit in flavor.  The citrus notes joined the other notes, and most notably meshed with the honey and pepper notes nicely.

While the La Verite 2009 was a different smoke than the L'Esprit de Verite 2009, I did not find this to be all that different in terms of the types of flavors it produced.   The pattern of honey flavor earlier followed by the emergence of the citrus notes seemed to be a common denominator with both cigars.

Burn and Draw

When I smoked the L'Esprit de Verite 2009, while the burn was good, I felt the cigar burned a little too fast for my liking.  No issues with the La Verite 2009 - this burned at the right rate and right temperature.  It required little to no touch-ups.  Overall, I assess the burn as excellent.  The draw also followed suit - this cigar was a pleasure to smoke.

Strength and Body

I'm not going to say I'm an expert in what Pele D'Oro tobacco brings to the table, but the adjustment of putting a little more into the filler really seemed to do wonders with this blend.   The La Verite 2009 definitely had more strength and more body than the L'Esprit de Verite 2009.   I would say the La Verite 2009 was medium to full in strength and the body of the flavors was full-bodied.   There is a nice balance between the strength and body as one does not overwhelm the other.  The increase in strength and body made a huge difference and I think made for a better cigar.

Final Thoughts

Overall I thought the La Verite 2009 was a positive smoking experience.  I definitely preferred it better than the Robusto-sized L'Esprit de Verite 2009.   The knock I have on the La Verite 2009 is the lack of complexity.   The La Verite 2009 is priced with ultra-premium cigars (i.e. it could hit $20-$25 in some markets like New York).  While I have no issue pricing cigars high, I do expect more complexity from my cigar for the price.  I do think experienced cigar enthusiasts would like this cigar, but like me might be disappointed from it lacking complexity.   I probably would gravitate a novice toward the L'Esprit de Verite 2009 robusto blend as it is amp'd down in terms of strength.   As for myself, I would smoke the La Verite 2009 again.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Medium to Full
Body: Full
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: The cigars for this assessment were purchased from W.Curtis Draper in Bethesda, Maryland.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cigar Review: La Flor Dominicana Colorado Oscuro (No 5)

La Flor Dominicana Colorado Oscuro No. 5 Vitola - My Sample
In the world of cigars, all cigars are works of art to me.  I love to look at a cigar's appearance from wrapper, to foot, to cap.   If these handmade gems are not works of art, then I don't know what is.  At the 2011 IPCPR , there were plenty of works of art on display, but no cigar visually stood out as much as the La Flor Dominicana Colorado Oscuro. Of course leave it to me - the amateur photographer to botch a picture of one of the most visually stunning cigars I've seen.  Take my word, this cigar is much prettier than in the picture I took. Obviously in my mind when a cigar looks as good as the LFD Colorado Oscuro, it is one that I am going to be anxious to sample.  The end result is I got a nice cigar, that was good, but one I might have wanted to try in a different vitola.   From my initial impressions of a Gordo-sized vitola, I think this falls short of some of the more memorable smokes I've have in what has been the most competitive cigar year I've experienced in my lifetime.

The La Flor Dominicana will be a limited production cigar that will produced twice annually.   Currently these cigars are shipping in boxes of 50.

The cigar above is the sample I smoked.  As I mentioned, I botched the photo (I had too much light with the flash).  The wrapper is much darker and more oily than that picture shows.  The picture below of the LFD Colorado Oscuro was taken at the La Flor Dominicana booth at the 2011 IPCPR.  While the flash got int he way  in this picture as well, you can see the darker wrapper below.

La Flor Dominicana Colorado Oscuro - IPCPR 2011 Display
Let's take a closer look and see the what this cigar brings to the table.

Blend Profile

The blend is interesting in that it uses Sumatra on both the wrapper and binder.  The wrapper comes from Ecuador and the binder from the Dominican Republic.

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Binder: Dominican Sumatra
Filler: Dominican, Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

The La Flor Dominicana Colorado Ocuro is available in four vitolas.

No 2: 4 1/4 x 48
No 3: 5 x 50
No 4: 5 1/4 x 54
No 5: 5 3/4 x 60

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

Normally I gravitate toward big ring gauges, but in the case of the LFD Colorado Oscuro, the only size I've currently gotten my hands on his the No. 5 - which is a Gordo-sized cigar.   Given that this was a big ring gauge cigar, I defaulted to a straight cut through the cap.  On the pre-light draw, I detected notes of chocolate and leather, with a hint of cedar.  I was satisfied with the dry draw on this cigar and prepared to enjoy the smoking experience by lighting up the LFD Colorado Oscuro.

Flavor Profile

I use the term "Pepin Pepper Blast" to refer to a blast of pepper I get after lighting a Don Pepin Garcia (or Garcia family) blended cigar that subsides quickly.  This is Litto Gomez's cigar, not Don Pepin Garcia's, so I want to give Litto the proper respect here.  However I did get a pepper blast similar to what I get on a lot of Pepin cigars.   While I felt the pepper on the tongue, I really felt it on the nose.  This pepper blast, like a "Pepin Pepper Blast" subsided quickly.   I was then treated to chocolate, leather, and cinnamon notes.  The pepper spice moved into the background.

The flavors from the LFD Colorado Oscuro were very good, but I did not find this to be the most complex cigar in terms of a lot of flavor transitions.. The chocolate flavors did morph to more of a espresso syrup flavor by the midway point.   The spices did re-emerge in the second half as it took on more of a baker's spice profile.  The baker's spice never got overwhelming as it complemented the leather and cinnamon notes nicely.  The cigar did have nice flavors right until the nub.  Each time I had this cigar, I didn't get a small nub.  The cigar finished soft and lukewarm each time it finished.

Burn and Draw

The burn on this cigar was not one of the better ones.  It tended to burn unevenly quite a bit and required more touch-ups than it should have.   I know this is an example where people will lecture me for going for the big ring gauge cigars, but there are plenty of 60 ring gauge cigars that do not have these burn issues. As far as the burn rate and burn temperature, this was not as much of an issue.   The draw was fine as it drew very well for a big ring gauge cigar.

Strength and Body

This cigar definitely had some bite to it as far as nicotine goes.  It easily qualified in my book as a full strength cigar.  As for the body, the notes did have some nice depth to it.  It does fall a little short of being full-bodied, and I assess the body as medium to full here.  Although the strength was fuller than the body, I still thought there was balance -i.e. while the strength was strong, it never sacrificed the flavor notes.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those cigars where it just might not work in the big ring gauge.   There is no doubt I want to give the other vitolas a sample.  My gut tells me with a little more age (these were new arrivals I purchased) and a smaller ring gauge, the burn issues might not be there.   I was also expecting more complexity here and perhaps the smaller ring gauges could do a little more in terms of balancing the flavors from the wrapper with the other tobaccos.  Still, I liked the flavors of this cigar and did not find this a bad cigar.   It's definitely not a cigar for the novice and one for the more experienced cigar enthusiast who appreciates a full strength cigar.   For now this is a "Nice to Have" for the No 5 vitola.   Stay tuned for a follow-up assessment when I try the smaller ring gauges.

Summary

Burn: Fair
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Full
Body: Medium to Full
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: The cigars for this assessment were purchased from W.Curtis Draper in Bethesda, Maryland.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Tattoo

Tatuaje Tattoo
The Tatuaje Tattoo is another limited production cigar by Pete Johnson and Tatauje earlier in 2011.   This cigar was only limited to a select few "top-tier" Tatuaje retailers.  The cigar is a part of the "Exclusive Series" by Tatuaje that typically are earmarked as retailer exclusives.  The word is that a vitola in this line will be released on an annual basis in a similar fashion. If you have read this web-site, when it comes to Tatuaje, I have thrown around an expression "release a limited cigar and they will come".   This is a play on my expression "build a core line and they will come".  In fairness, Tatuaje has been focused a lot on their core lines in 2011, but they haven't kept their eye off the retailer exclusives.   The net/net of the Tatuaje Tattoo is that this was an nice smoke, but not one that completely wow'd me.

Tatuaje is Spanish for Tattoo, so the cigar's name is a play on the company name.   There were a total of 5100 cigars produced and they were sold in bundles of 15.   If you estimate about 20 retailers got the cigar, that's 340 bundles produced for an average of 17 bundles per retailer  Don't take that as an exact science, but you get the idea the demand outpaces supply.   In other words, based on the time I authored this assessment - good luck finding these around.

Blend Profile

The Tattoo features a Habano Rosado Oscuro wrapper.

Wrapper: Habano Rosado Oscuro
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

There is a single vitola available and that is a 7 1/2 x 38 box-pressed lancero.  A lot of retailers complain they cannot sell lanceros, yet how many would jump at the chance to sell this particular cigar.

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For the Tattoo, I opted to put a straight cut into the triple cap.  Upon commencing with the pre-light draw, I was treated to dry notes of  earth and wood.   The wood was more of a secondary flavor when compared to the earth.  I wasn't doing handstands over the flavors of the pre-light draw, so I moved right on to firing up the Tattoo and beginning the smoke.

Flavor Profile

Once I took the first draws into the Tatuaje Tattoo, I picked up flavors that were much better than what the dry draw offered.   The start of the cigar had notes of chocolate, citrus, and a little pepper spice.  I definitely picked up more spice through the nose than on the tongue.  The chocolate notes were not what I would term "rich chocolate notes"

Around 10 percent into the cigar experience, I noticed the earth notes that were present on the dry draw had crept their way back into the flavor profile.  It was around this point where the citrus notes could be more specifically identified as almost a lemon-like flavor.  For the remainder of the first half of the smoke - the chocolate, earth, and lemon notes alternated  on which one was in the forefront.

The second half of the smoking experience saw the emergence of cinnamon notes and cherry syrup-like notes.  These flavors would join the other flavors and move to the forefront.   The finish to the cigar was not harsh.  The nub I got at the end was soft, but cool.

Burn and Draw

No issues for either category with the Tattoo.   The Tattoo did require some touch-ups, but nothing that my butane lighter could not fix.  The cigar burned at a good rate and proper temperature.   As for the draw, it was outstanding.   I was concerned a box-press lancero draw might be too loose, but there were no issues.

Strength and Body

A lot of people had told me this cigar was a cigar that was on the fuller side in terms of strength and body.  However, my experience with the Tattoo was not the case.  I felt it could have actually used a bit of a boost in both of these attributes.  From a nicotine strength, this cigar fell squarely into the medium range for me.  As for body, yes there were nice flavors, but the flavors weren't quite as developed as I would have liked.  I also put this as a medium for the body attribute.

Final Thoughts

This cigar had a lot to offer from a complexity profile.   However, this cigar doesn't mean that a complex cigar is going to be a memorable smoke.  At the same time, it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this cigar - because I did.  Ultimately I would have liked the flavors to develop a little more.  If this cigar had more depth and robustness to the flavors, we'd be talking about a very good smoke.   While I think a novice can enjoy this cigar, they may need some more experience to pick up the nuances of this cigar.  I think experienced enthusiasts would enjoy this cigar - with the understanding that this is a medium strength, medium bodied cigar.   Still, if you find this cigar, I'd say check it out.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: High
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source:  This cigar was gifted to me from my friend RR from New York.   Thanks RR!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cigar Review: San Cristobal Elegancia

San Cristobal Elegancia
2011 will long be remembered as the year of Ecuadorian/Connecticut Shade wrapper cigars.    Many of the big name blenders have been working with these tobaccos in the cigars they have made.  The challenge this is creating is that it is creating a lot of competition in retail humidors for cigars in this genre.  A lot of manufacturers are following the lead set by A.J. Fernandez with his San Lotano Connecticut - that is developing blends that are not mild strength, mild bodied cigars.  One cigar that is a new release Ecuadorian/Connecticut shade cigar comes from Ashton in their San Cristobal line.  This blend is called the San Cristobal Elegancia.  The Elegancia is a solid cigar, but I'm wondering if it might get lost in the saturation of Ecuadorian/Connecticut shade releass in 2011.

The San Cristobal line started as collaboration between Don Pepin Garcia and Ashton Cigars.  Once again the partnership works together to produce the Elegancia.  Pepin has already shown an interest in working with the trendy Ecuadorian/Connecticut shade wrapper as he has already done so with EO Brands' 601 White earlier this year.

Let's break down the San Cristobal Elegancia and see what it brings to the table:

Blend Profile

The binder and filler is classic Garcia Nicaraguan. The Connecticut seed Ecuadorian wrapper has a silky look to it.

Wrapper: Connecticut seed Ecuadorian
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

At the time of release, the San Cristobal Elegancia is offered in five vitolas:

Corona: 5 1/2 x 46
Robusto: 5 x 50
Imperial: 6 x 52
Pyramid: 6 1/4 x 52
Churchill: 7 x 50

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this cigar experience, I selected the Imperial - basically a classic toro-sized vitola.  I placed a straight cut into the cap and immediately proceeded with the pre-light draw.  The dry notes didn't surprise me - butter and pepper.  Being this is a Garcia family cigar, I fully expected the pepper.  Overall the pre-light experience was satisfactory, so it was on light the cigar and smoke.

Flavor Profile

The Elegancia was classic Garcia at the start - I got some cedar spice and pepper through the nose.  At the same time, the butter flavors associated with the Ecuadorian shade wrapper blended right in with the spice.  In particular, there was almost a three-dimensional flavor to the butter and spice where the butter is literally layered over the pepper.

At the start of the second third of the Elegancia, I noticed the cedar spice increase.  I also noticed some citrus sweetness develop. Around the halfway point the cedar spice diminishes a bit and the citrus moved front and center.  At this point, the citrus definitely took on a lemon feel.   It was around this point where the butter notes dissipated.  While the flavors were solid, the citrus and spice seemed to mesh and the Elegancia did not have the "three-dimensional" quality it had earlier on in terms of flavors.

In the final third, the cedar spice picked up again and became the dominant note. The lemon notes had become more of a secondary note.  I wouldn't say this spice was a true "spice kick", but it provided enough spice.  The finish was not harsh.  The nub was soft and slightly warm.

Burn and Draw

The Elegancia has great scores for both the burn and draw.  The burn required a few touch-ups, but nothing major.  The burn rate was actually a bit slow and that is something I like.  No issues with the Elegancia burning hot - it burned at a perfect temperature.   The draw was outstanding - making for one enjoyable smoking experience.

Strength and Body

When it comes to the flood of Ecuadorian/Connecticut shade cigars, this is a category I pay particular attention to.  The Elegancia is not strong cigar in terms of nicotine..  It starts out as a mild strength cigar and by the midway point, it approaches mild to medium in terms of strength.  As for the body, the flavors definitely have some depth - a solid medium in this category.

Final Thoughts

At the start of this assessment I said that this cigar is a solid cigar, but wondered if it would get lost in the pack of Ecuadorian/Connecticut shade cigars.  Right now I still have the Room 101 Connecticut and E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut ahead of this for 2011, but this is still a nice cigar. Time will tell how this cigar lands as the other cigars with this profile hit the retailer shelves.  Overall, I would recommend this to novice enthusiasts with no problem.  I'm thinking experienced enthusiasts wanting a milder strength, milder bodied cigar might look to some other offerings, but I'd still encourage them to give it a try.   From my point of view, I'd have no issue buying this cigar again.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Medium
Strength: Mild to Medium (Mild to Start)
Body: Mild to Medium
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: The cigars for this assessment were purchased from Holt's in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Cigar Pre-Review: CAO OSA Sol (Part 49 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

CAO OSA Sol
The CAO OSA Sol marks the first new blend released under the CAO brand since it was integrated under the General Cigars portfolio last year.   When I previewed the CAO OSA Sol, I was on the record saying I think the brand is in good hands. Late last year, it was announced that Team La Gloria's Rick Rodriguez was joining the CAO team.  Since then, CAO has added Ed McKenna as the Senior Brand Manager.  From my conversations with Rick and Ed, it was clear the strategy was to preserve the legacy of the CAO brand and continue the high level of innovation CAO fans have become accustomed to.   While from a strategic perspective, I am positive with the transition and leadership of CAO, ultimately things are going to come down to the final product.  On the surface, the CAO OSA Sol showcases a lot of the unique things CAO has historically brought to the table, ultimately I found that this was a cigar that just didn't fit my flavor profile.

I've opted to give my first impressions using a Pre-Review.  This is in order to give some first impressions of the cigar and describe some of my experiences with it.  Given this was a pre-release IPCPR sample, I will set that as a parameter and add that things can change once the cigar hits retailer shelves.   While I stated above this cigar did not favor my flavor profile, this does not make it a bad cigar - just perhaps not a cigar for me.

Blend Profile

In my 2011 IPCPR Series, I've discussed the resurgence of Honduran tobacco.  The OSA Sol is one of those cigars that reflects this trend.  The OSA name is an acronym for Olancho San Augustin - a region in Honduras.  I admit this is a region I was not familiar with prior to hearing about this cigar.  The wrapper is from a 2008 batch of the tobacco.  The packaging also continues the innovative traditions of CAO - showcasing the Olancho San Augustin region of Honduras.

Wrapper: Honduras OSA
Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Nicaraguan, Honduran

Vitolas Available

The CAO OSA Sol is available in three sizes. The cigar will be sold in boxes of 25.

Lot 50: 5 x 50 (Robusto)
Lot 54: 6 x 54 (Toro)
Lot 58: 6 1/2 x 58 (Gordo)

Preparation for the Cigar Experience


For this cigar experience, I sampled the Lot 50 robusto-sized vitola.   I placed a straight cut into the cap of the OSA Sol and commenced with a pre-light draw.  The pre-light draw provided some notes of bittersweet cocoa powder.  While I liked the flavor of the pre-light draw, I would have preferred more depth to the cocoa powder flavor.   It was now on to fire up the OSA Sol and see what it would bring to the table.

Flavor Profile

One general theme with the CAO OSA Sol that I was surprised about was the amount of spice that this cigar produced.  This surprised me because the dry draw on the pre-light didn't give me any indication of this.  The spice started out with a cedar spice and quickly progressed to more of a cayenne pepper.  If you have read many of my other assessments of cigars, you will know that I do like spicy cigars.  However, spice must be balanced by complementary flavors.   This is where I feel the OSA Sol fell short in my book.

About 10 percent into the cigar experience, the cayenne spice subsided and the cigar took on more of a profile of grass. A pattern quickly developed where I would grass notes on the draw, and spice on the after-draw   The spice was pretty pronounced.  At this point, the spice started to take on more of a classic red pepper feel.

In the second third of the cigar, I detected some of the cocoa notes I had on the pre-light draw along with tea flavors.  The pattern of the red pepper spice on the after-draw continued during this point of the smoking experience.  While there are times I don't mind tea notes, I just felt in this case I would have rather had seen the cocoa notes develop more.

On the last third, I noticed some citrus notes enter the equation join the tea and red pepper notes.  The citrus notes actually push the spice toward the background.   While I've had positive experiences with citrus notes, I felt these notes lacked any sweet flavors that would normally add to the flavor profile.   The cigar didn't finish harsh - and the nub was warm, yet firm.

Burn and Draw

While the flavor profile just never did it for me, when it came to the construction attributes, I have very positive things to say about the OSA Sol.  The burn was excellent and required very few touch-ups.  It burned at a perfect rate and ideal temperature for a smoke.  There was a little resistance on the draw at the midway point of the smoke, but overall an excellent draw.

Strength and Body

The CAO OSA Sol was advertised as a medium strength cigar and from my experience with the OSA Sol, I can confirm that this is indeed the case.  While the flavor notes did not "wow" me, there was depth to the notes from a body standpoint.   I definitely categorize the OSA Sol as a medium to full.

Final Thoughts

The previous two cigar releases from CAO, the La Traviata and La Traviata Maduro were Cigar of the Year contenders in 2009 and 2010 respectively.  The bar was going to be set high in 2011 for CAO.   While I didn't care for the flavors of the CAO OSA Sol, this is a not a bad cigar - and it might appeal to certain flavor pallets.  I don't think is a reflection of the new regime as sometimes the taste profile doesn't agree with the individual.  It's quite possible this cigar may grow on me and I certainly am going to give it another smoke.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium to Full

Source: This samples were received at the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show.  These samples were initiated by CAO in order to provide feedback.   I am appreciative for the sample, but in no way does this influence this review.

Note: All samples received from the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show will be included in my "2011 IPCPR Series"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cigar Review: Lou Rodriguez Edicion Reserva Connecticut (Part 48 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

Lou Rodriguez Edicion Reserva Connecticut
One thing I've said that is important for retailers when considering indie/boutique cigars is to find something special.  Most importantly, a cigar that is capable of knocking something else out of the humidor.  In a time with many new launches and many new brands, this is an important rule of thumb.  One brand that has a cigar that falls into this category is Lou Rodriguez Cigars.   From the 2011  IPCPR, I was able to sample one of the cigars - the Lou Rodriguez Edicion Reserva Connecticut.   In a year in which the market has been flooded with Connecticut shade releases, this cigar was one that has stood out very nicely.

A little background on what I know about Lou Rodriguez Cigars. The founder, Lou Rodriguez is a doctor by profession who is passionate about cigars and  got into the industry.  In fact, his cigar bands have the medical symbol denoted on them.   Rodriguez launched two new blends to join two Maduro cigars he has already released (the Edicion Reserva Maduro and the Edicion Premier).   The two new blends launched at the 2011 IPCPR were a Connecticut and a Rosado blend.  The nice thing about the new releases is it really helps round out Lou Rodriguez's line to a wide variety of consumers.  For this assessment, we will focus on the Connecticut.

Production is limited to 5000 boxes per year. The brand is committed to supporting the Brick and Mortar retailers.  The brand is also available on the online retailer Charmed Leaf as this provides access to those who do not have access to a brick and mortar carrying the brand.  The brand is committed to not selling out to the online retailers.

Lets take a closer look at the this cigar:

Blend Profile

The blend brings a nice mix of Nicaraguan tobacco wrapped with a Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper.

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan (Proprietary)

Vitolas Available

The Lou Rodriguez Edicion Reserva Connecticut is available in five sizes:

Panetela: 6 x 38
Corona: 5½ x 42
Lancero: 7 x 42
Robusto: 5 x 50
Churchill: 7 x 54

The cigar has a unique "spiral" like pig-tail on the cap.

Spiral pig-tail cap of the Lou Rodriguez Edicion Reserva Connecticut

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this cigar experience, I sampled the Corona size.   If you read this web-site, I don't often sample corona vitolas, but this is the sample I had.  I usually still place a straight cut whenever there is a pig-tail cap, so I didn't change course here.  I then proceeded to sample some dry draws before lighting..   The pre-light dry notes were classic Ecuadorian Connecticut with a mix of cream and cedar.   Satisfied with the pre-light draw, I proceeded to fire this up and see what the Edicion Reserva Connecticut would bring to the table.

Flavor Profile

The initial draws gave me some classic black pepper spice to start.  The pepper subsided quickly and the cigar settled back to what I got on the dry notes - namely a mix of cedar and cream.  Around 10 percent into the cigar experience, some classic cherry sweet notes emerged.

As the cigar entered the second third, the cream notes moved into the forefront.   The cream notes gave this cigar a real smoothness and the cream was robust - in other words this wasn't your generic Ecuadorian Connecticut shade smoke.  As the cigar moved into the last third, the cedar spice kicked up a bit.  This gave the cigar a nice kick as it came to a close.   The cigar finished as smoothly as it smoked for the duration.  The nub was a little soft, but it not harsh - and burned cool at the end.  This was a testament to the quality of the construction of the smoke

Burn and Draw

I mentioned this was a quality constructed cigar.  The burn and draw clearly reflected this.  The burn was very even requiring minimal touch-ups.  The cigar burned nice and slow for a corona vitola - and I view this as a positive.  It also burned at a perfect temperature.   The draw made this cigar a real enjoyable smoke as it was near perfect.

Strength and Body

This is not a cigar that is going to overpower you.  It doesn't have a lot of nicotine and it is a classic mild strength smoke.  The body was also classic mild to medium.   Some people look at mild strength, mild to medium bodied cigars as a negative, but this truly fulfilled the definition of classic smooth smoke.

Final Thoughts

While this wasn't the strongest or most complex cigar I had, this was still a very good cigar.  I enjoyed the flavors it produced, and this was a real pleasure to smoke.   In a lot of ways, it fits the profile for a classic "morning smoke".   Novice cigar enthusiasts can really appreciate a smoke like this.  Experienced cigar enthusiasts who appreciate what a milder strength, milder bodied smoke can bring to the table will also enjoy this.  Overall this is one of those cigars that can knock out a lot of cigars out of a retailers' humidor that fit this profile.   I would definitely purchase some of these in the near future.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Mild
Body: Mild to Medium
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: This sample was received at the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show.  The sample was initiated by Lou Rodriguez Cigars. I am appreciative for the sample, but in no way does this influence this review.

Note: All samples received from the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show will be included in my "2011 IPCPR Series"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cigar Preview: Ashton VSG Line Extension - Ashton VSG Pegasus (Part 47 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

Note: The IPCPR Series is not over yet, but I believe based on my notes I have from IPCPR this is the last of the "Cigar Previews".  There are still plenty of cigars to be evaluated as a part of the 2011 IPCPR Series that will be forthcoming and included in the series.  As I stated at the start of this series, I did not visit every booth, so I don't have every cigar previewed.  I am appreciative in all of the great feedback (and corrections!)  from readers on this series and hopefully, I've been able to provide a good technical breakdown of the cigars due to be released.

At the 2011 IPCPR, Ashton announced a new vitola to be added to its popular VSG (Virgin Sun Grown) line.   Cigar enthusiasts long know Ashton as a landmark cigar line that has been around for over 12 years.   This new cigar is a 5.5 x 54 toro vitola known as the "Pegasus".

The Pegasus becomes the third vitola in the Ashton line to be released as a standard parejo as opposed to a box-press.  (The other being the 6 x 56 Wizard and the 6 x 52 Eclipse Tubo).   These will come in boxes of 20.  Release date is targeted for this Fall.

Blend Profile

For completeness, here is the blend profile of the Ashton VSG:

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cigar Preview: Humo Jaguar by Miami Cigars (Part 46 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

One cigar that has gotten a lot of buzz from the Cigar Industry is the release of Miami Cigars' Humo Jaguar.

The Humo Jaguar cigar comes from the cigar festival in Honduras that bears the same name.   Various cigar makers enter the competition.  It turns out that a blend by Nestor Plasencia won the 2011 competition and as a result it is now being distributed by Miami Cigars.

Word is that this cigar will be full-flavored and full-bodied.   Here is what I know about this cigar:   One theme that has really gone unnoticed is the return of Honduran tobacco to many of the big name blends.  The Humo Jaguar is representative of this trend.

Blend Profile

Being a Honduran Festival, no surprises the tobacco is from - Honduras!

Wrapper: Honduran Oscuro (Viso Priming)
Binder: Talanga (Honduran)
Filler: Honduran Cuban-Seed

Vitolas Available

Robusto: 5 x 52
Corona Gorda: 6 x 52
Gigante: 6 x 60

I am looking forward to trying the sample of this cigar I have. 

Cigar Pre-Review: San Lotano Oval (Part 45 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

San Lotano Oval
At the 2010 IPCPR, one of the revelations that came out of the trade show was A.J. Fernandez's debut of his San Lotano line.  While many had heard of Fernandez for his reputation as one of the great young blenders in the industry, San Lotano was a new label on the industry.  In the past 12 months, I think its safe to say that San Lotano went from an unknown brand to a cigar that is found in many retailers' humidors and a name many cigar enthusiasts are now familiar with.   The 2010 San Lotano cigars were top notch - as the Connecticut and Maduro notched spots in my Top 30 Cigar of the Year countdown while the Habano garnered an honorable mention.   Now the question would be what would Fernandez and the team at San Lotano do for an encore?   The answer is the San Lotano Oval which made its debut at the 2011 IPCPR.   Once again, Fernandez delivers a quality cigar.  How does it stack up against the 2010 line?  Let's take a closer look.

The Oval derives its nickname from its rounded box-press shape.  In fact this shape is like no other I have seen before and is a true work of cigar art.  The Oval advertised as using ultra-premium tobaccos.   From what I've heard, this will still be limited production.

Since this was a pre-release sample, I will default to a pre-review to describe the experience and provide an assessment rating at a later date.

Blend Profile

When originally hints of the Oval started making their way around the industry, the origins of the Habano 2000 wrapper were not known.  From the information I've seen, the wrapper is from Brazil.  No guesses on my part what the "secret filler" is.

Wrapper: Habano 2000 Wrapper (Brazil)
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras, and "AJ Fernandez Secret Filler"

Vitolas Available

When I first heard of the Oval, I was under the impression this would be a one vitola blend.  We now know that this is being made in five vitolas.  As mentioned above, the Oval has a unique rounded box-press shape.

Petit Robusto: 4 1/2 x 54
Corona: 5 x 44
Robusto: 5 1/2 x 54
Toro: 6 x 52
Gordo: 6 1/2 x 60

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this cigar experience, I sampled the Toro vitola.  I placed a straight cut into the beautiful cap of the Oval and then commenced with a pre-light draw.   The dry draw notes yielded me flavors of coffee, cedar, wood, and a hint of caramel.  Overall a very good pre-light draw, so I fired up the Oval and began the smoking experience.

Flavor Profile

The initial flavors from the San Lotano Oval picked up where the dry draw left off.   I definitely detected the coffee flavors as well as the caramel.  On these early draws, there were times I also detected hints of cocoa powder in the background.   About 10 percent into the smoke, I noticed a subtle cedar spice emerge. Overall, I did not find the Oval to be a very spicy cigar.  For the most part, the spices weren't too deep and provided more of a complementary role.

The second third of the cigar showcases more of the coffee flavors.  The coffee notes are front and center and take on more of a coffee-syrup like quality.  The caramel sweetness was almost absorbed by the coffee syrup and it made for a very positive flavor profile.  As the cigar moved out of the second third, I noticed the depth of the flavors diminish somewhat.   In particular coffee notes diminished and by the end of the second third, they were not as detectable.

In the last third, I actually felt some tea notes had replaced the coffee notes.  There were times some of the cocoa notes I detected earlier on would creep in, but the tea notes were front and center.  The spice also kicks up in the early part of the last third.  By this point, the spice took on more of an exotic spice feel as opposed to the cedar spice that was present earlier. This spice still is complementary as opposed to in the forefront, and it does diminish toward the end.   The tea notes are present as the cigar experience comes to a close.   The nub was outstanding - cool and firm.

Burn and Draw

This was classic AJ Fernandez in terms of burn.   Fernandez's cigars' tend to burn razor-sharp and the innovative box-press design has no impact on this.   Plus the cigar burned at a perfect rate and perfect temperature.   The draw was flawless as well - the Oval was a true pleasure to smoke.

Strength and Body

I was expecting a stronger cigar from a nicotine standpoint, but this was not what the Oval was all about.  The Oval's strength was in the medium range.  As for the body, the notes had the right amount of flavor depth to appreciate them.  I still put this as a medium-bodied smoke - just falling short of the medium to full area of the spectrum. While this is a smooth smoke, I wouldn't call this a morning smoke either.  It's got enough strength and body to make for the perfect nightcap smoke.

Final Thoughts

There is one negative I can say about the Oval is the flavor transition it made in the last third of the cigar experience.   I felt it lost some of its robustness in that last third and got a little too overtaken by tea notes.  This is a case where I would have sacrificed some complexity for the outstanding flavors that were in the first two thirds of the cigar.  However, the Oval is still a very good cigar.  It is one of those cigars that novice and experienced enthusiasts will both enjoy.  It is definitely worth checking out when it hits your retailers' humidor.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Medium
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium

Source: This sample was received at the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show.  The sample was initiated by AJ Fernandez Cigars in order to provide feedback.  Several members of my team visited the booth and obtained this cigar for me at the time the samples were given out.   I am appreciative for the sample, but in no way does this influence this review.

Note: All samples received from the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show will be included in my "2011 IPCPR Series"

Monday, August 15, 2011

Video: An Open Message To Congress - Save America's Historic Premium Cigar Industry From The FDA

Over the past year, I've gotten to know Jeff Borysiewicz of Corona Cigars.   I've been able to learn a lot from his knowledge of the industry from a retail and legislative standpoint.   Jeff's also one of the true patriots when he comes to fighting for the rights of cigar enthusiasts.

The following is a video that Jeff recorded as an "Open Message to Congress" to support HR 1639 and the companion Senate bill, S 1461 (Thank you Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson for sponsoring the Senate bill) to exempt premium cigars from FDA control.   However, this video is really a great piece of work - and I am encouraging all cigar enthusiasts to watch this and learn from it.   There is some great information to help forward the cause.   There was quite a bit I learned from this video.



Cigar Preview: Diamondback by Altadis (Part 44 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

 At the 2011 IPCPR, Altadis unveiled a new value-priced line.   This one is called "Diamondback" and it is blended by Omar Ortez.

Now when I think of the term "Diamondback", the first word that comes to mind is the Major League Baseball team based in Phoenix, Arizona.  In this case, the name Diamondback comes from a card game that goes by that name. The offering is going to be a milder offering and the cigars will have an SRP ranging from $4.25 to $5.00.  

Let's take a closer look at some of the particulars of the Diamondback cigar.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut-seed
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

There will be four sizes of the Diamondback that will be available.  The cigars will be sold in boxes of 20.

Corona: 5 1/2 x 44
Churchill: 7 x 52
Robusto: 5 x 54
Toro: 6 x 54

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cigar Preview: Alec Bradley Fine and Rare (Part 43 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

At the 2011 IPCPR, Alec Bradley unveiled a cigar that I would categorize as an ultra-premium This cigar is called the "Fine and Rare".   While most of the details of the blend have not been disclosed, we do know that the Fine and Rare utilizes ten different tobaccos in the blend.

Each box will also contain the signatures of the rollers, factory supervisor as well as Alan Rubin and Rafael Montero from Alec Bradley.  This is becoming a trend that we are seeing a lot in the cigar industry - the personalization of the people behind the product.

The plan is for a targeted production run of 1,111 boxes. One thousand of these 1,111 boxes contain ten Toros (6 x 52). each.  There are also a hundred 20-count boxes that come with 10 Toros and 10 Torpedos. The remaining 11 boxes will be reserved for charity (distributed at the discretion of Alan Rubin).  These are 30-count packages holding 10 Toros, 10 Torpedos and 10 Perfectos.  The Toro will have an SRP of $14.00

Blend Profile

Here is what I do know about the blend.  As you can see the total tobaccos add up to 10.

Wrapper: Honduras
Binder: Honduras, Nicaragua  (Double Binder - contains two leaves for binder)
Filler: Unknown - but contains seven leaves of filler

Click here for our detailed assessment of this cigar.


Updated 11/14/11: Includes country of origin for binder leaves.
Update: 10/27/11:  Word is the final count of the boxes will be 1,111.  The plan is also to start the official release of this cigar on 11/11/11.
Update: 12/27/11: Corrected boxes and vitolas.

Cigar Review: Tatuaje La Casita Criolla

Tatuaje La Criolla Casita
When I reviewed the Tatuaje Fausto a couple of days ago, I mentioned that one thing Tatuaje Cigars has been doing in 2011 is focusing some attention around their core lines.  While Tatuaje has always had a solid reputation for their regular production cigars, they have also built a reputation around many limited production and retailer exclusive cigars.  At IPCPR 2011 - in addition to the Fausto line, Tatuaje launched a second new line of cigars.   This other line is known as "La Casita Criolla".   In addition to having the Tatuaje name behind it, the La Casita Criolla is gaining a lot of attention because it is all Connecticut Broadleaf puro - something not too common in the marketplace.  With the La Casita Criolla, this gives another solid new line by Tatuaje - complementing the Fausto line perfectly.  Overall, I found this to be a solid release by Pete Johnson and his team.

La Casita Criolla translates from Spanish to English "The Little Native House".   I'm not sure if I have seen another major or boutique produce with a Connecticut Broadleaf puro or an all-American puro for that matter.  Regardless, it's clear to me Tatuaje is venturing into a road not traveled all that often.   Will other cigar manufacturers follow Tatuaje's lead?  Time will tell.

Blend Profile

The surprise of the blend was already spoiled if you read the introduction.  This is Connecticut Broadleaf through and through.  One note is that this wrapper appears a little lighter than most Connecticut Broadleafs that are commonly seen.

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Connecticut Broadleaf

Vitolas Available

The cigar will be available in 3 vitolas and sold in boxes of 25.  Another interesting note is that this cigar is currently not available in a ring gauge larger than a 48.

HCB (Corona): 5 1/8 x 42
HCBC (Corona Gorda): 5 5/8 x 46
HCBF (Short Churchill): 6 1/2 x 48

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

I admit, the one thing that disappointed me is the lack of a bigger ring gauge. Therefore, I defaulted to the largest ring gauge in the La Casita Criolla line - the Short Churchill sized HCBF.   I placed a straight cap into cap and started the prelight draw.  The dry flavor notes yielded notes of sweet chocolate, leather, and a touch of spice. I found this to be a solid prelight experience.  The next step was to light the La Casita Criolla and see what else I was in store for.

Flavor Profile

The initial flavor notes once I lit up the La Casita Criolla gave me notes of leather, mild pepper spice, and a mildly sweet espresso syrup.  Around 5 percent into the smoke, I detected some cherry and cream notes that soon complemented the initial notes.  By about 10 percent into the smoke, the cherry sweetness moved to the forefront.

During that first third, there were times I also detected some citrus sweetness The citrus sweetness never got overwhelming and complemented the cherry notes very nicely.  The second third of the La Casita Criolla saw the espresso notes transition to more of a traditional cocoa taste.  The cocoa notes slowly emerged to the forefront with the cherry, leather, and lingering pepper-spice notes.

In the last third of the cigar, the spice notes really kick it up a notch.   In fact, the La Casita Criolla really was spicy at the close.  The spice had pepper notes, but I also picked up some baker's spice notes as well.  The finish to the cigar had no harsh notes, but was all spice.  The nub was firm and cool - the staple of a well-made cigar.

Burn and Draw

The burn did go uneven on me at times and required some touch-ups.  The touch-ups did the trick, but it did require a little bit of work to keep the burn straight.  No issues with burn rate or burn temperature with the La Casita Criolla.  There were no issues with the draw - in fact, the draw was outstanding.

Strength and Body

This was not a very strong cigar.  From a nicotine standpoint, the La Casita Criolla is a solid medium.   This provides good balance to the other new Tatuaje blend, the Fausto - which is much stronger.  The La Casita Criolla had some nice depth on the flavors.  The body definitely falls into the medium to full range.  Overall, a good cigar that balances strength and body.

Final Thoughts

For a cigar that is all Connecticut Broadleaf, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of complexity the La Criolla Casita brought to the table.   This is the perfect cigar for both novice and experienced cigar enthusiasts as I think both types of consumers will enjoy what this cigar brings to the table.   This cigar is also very worthy of a box purchase.   This is one I recommend picking up.

Summary

Burn: Good
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: High
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium to Full
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: The cigar for this assessment were purchased from W.Curtis Draper in Bethesda, Maryland

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cigar Preview: H.Upmann 1844 Reserve - Reblend (Part 42 of the 2011 IPCPR Series)

Note: The IPCPR Series is not over yet, but we are approaching the end of the cigar previews.  While I expect most of the content going forward with initial assessments (Pre-Reviews, Reviews) of the new cigars, there are still a few previews I want to highlight. 

One notable item that came from Altadis USA at IPCPR 2011 was the launch of a reblended H.Upmann 1844 Reserve.  In particular there have been major changes to the blend.   The price point is still expected to be in the $5.00 range.  I apologize in advance for not having a photo.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Cubano
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Dominican

This is basically an entirely new cigar with the same name with very different tobaccos. The old blend was as follows:

Discontinued Blend
Wrapper: Indonesian
Binder: Dominican
Filler: Dominican and Brazilian

Vitolas Available

I have only been able to confirm five sizes for the new H.Upmann 1844 Reserve.  I've heard there may be more, so I will keep an eye on this.  These cigars will be sold in boxes of 20.

Toro: 6 x 54
Belicoso: 6 1/8 x 52
Churchill: 7 x 50
Robusto: 5 x 50
Corona: 5 1/2 x 44

The cigar is being advertised as a medium strength offering. Stay tuned as I will have try to provide more information (as well as sample this cigar) in the future.

Cigar Review: Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT (Double Torpedo)

Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT
By now it is pretty common knowledge that the Viaje Oro Reserva No 5 was named the #2 Cigar of the Year (2010) by Cigar Aficionado.  In reality since a Cuban cigar was named #1, this was the top cigar that is available to us living in the United States. It was this announcement that put Andre Farkas' Viaje company on the map of the mainstream cigar world.   Prior to IPCPR 2011, Farkas made an announcement that a new vitola for the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR blend was being released.   This cigar is will be a double torpedo (perfecto-like) vitola and this is called the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT.  I was a fan of the VOR No. 5 and while the VOR DT is a nice follow-up, I'm thinking I still prefer the large robusto vitola of the VOR No. 5

The original word on the VOR DT was that this was going to be a limited release.  However, Andre Farkas was quoted in Cigar Aficionado as stating this will be a "regular production cigar". Now how many cigars will be produced on an annual basis is still something to be determined.

Here is a further break down of the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT:

Blend Profile

Like the VOR No 5, the VOR DT is an all-Nicaraguan puro.  The Reserva blend is a variation of Viaje's core Oro line.  The difference is that it contains slightly different in older leaf and aged ligero in the tobacco. 

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo 99
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

Here are the two vitolas of the VOR blend.  It is worth noting the original #5 is now a very difficult cigar to find and not one in regular production.

VOR No. 5: 5 1/2 x 52 (box-press)
VOR DT: 5 3/4 z 52 (double torpedo)

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

Given the VOR DT is a double torpedo, I defaulted to a straight cut.  Upon taking the pre-light dry draws, I definitely detected a combination of chocolate and caramel.  There also was a tiny hint of cedar in the background.   The prelight draw was very satisfactory so it was on to light up the VOR DT.

Flavor Profile

While I often assess one vitola of a cigar, I do realize each vitola tastes different.   It is almost like different shapes of macaroni - same ingredients, but different tastes among the shapes.  With some vitolas in a blend, the flavor differences are greater than others.  I mention this because I did see a significant difference between the VOR DT and VOR No. 5,

The initial flavors following the light-up of the VOR DT were a combination of cinnamon and pepper with some caramel undertones.  It was definitely a unique start to a cigar.  The flavor profile settled to one that was more of a sweet coffee.  The pepper subsided into the background for the remainder of the first third.

In the second third, there was a definite increase in the pepper notes.  This is similar to what the VOR No. 5 did.  I definitely think the pepper got more pronounced with the DT.  I also was able to detect the pepper strongly through my nasal passages.   On the last third, the coffee morphed into more of a classic cocoa taste (cocoa notes were also something that were very pronounced on the VOR No. 5).  The spice also diminished again.  The finish wasn't 100% smooth, but it wasn't harsh either.  My nub was a little soft, but cool.

Burn and Draw

The burn on my VOR No. 5 was outstanding.  I wish I could say the same thing about the VOR DT, but cannot.   My VOR DT had a major issue with tunneling several times during the cigar experience .  The burn rate was fine and the cigar didn't burn hot, but I the tunneling was enough to have an impact on flavor.

I have found many times Viaje Cigars need some age at least 8 to 10 weeks.   I don't think this VOR DT tasted "green", but I question if this was part of the burn problem.  I had given this VOR DT about 4 weeks aging (as opposed to the 8 to 10 weeks I normally give it), so cannot say if a few more weeks would have made a difference.

The draw had no issues - it was excellent in my book.

Strength and Body

The Viaje VOR DT had a good mix of strength and balance.   This cigar definitely has more nicotine than one might think.   I would not hesitate to put this into a medium to full category in terms of strength.   It's also similar for the body.  The flavors were robust and easily fall into the medium to full category in terms of body.

Final Thoughts

The two reasons why I put the VOR No. 5 ahead of the VOR DT are: 1) The tunneling problem on the VOR DT; 2) The Double Torpedo vitola.   With #2, I just am not a fan of any type of torpedo vitola.  I lot of times I think they look nicer than they actually smoke.   However, while these were some shortcomings, the Viaje Oro Reserva VOR DT was still a very flavorful cigar experience.   I'm thinking this cigar's profile can suit both the experienced enthusiast and the novice looking for medium to full strength/body smokes. While I still like the VOR No, 5 better, I'd still give this smoke another try.

Summary

Burn: Fair
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Medium
Strength: Medium to Full
Body: Medium to Full
Assessment: Nice to Have

Source: This cigar was purchased from Outland Cigars in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Fausto

Tatuaje Fausto - FT153 Vitola
The concept of limited run and retailer-exclusive cigars have become norms in the cigar industry over the past few years.  Tatuaje is a cigar company that has excelled with that concept - building a lot of quality smokes that have been in high demand by the public craving these limited smokes.  When I reviewed one of those cigars, the retailer-exclusive Federal Cigar 90th Anniversary Rosado, I joked "Release a limited cigar and they will come".   This was a play on an expression I have used on many cigar companies which is "build a core line" and they will come. In fairness to Tatuaje, Pete Johnson and company have focused on strengthening their regular production core line for 2011.  This has included two very anticipated new lines - the La Casita Criolla and the Fausto.   In particular, the Fausto has garnered a lot of attention.    I've now had a chance to sample of the Fausto blend, and I can conclude - with a core line like Fausto, "they will come".

The background I know on the Fausto is that it is based off a previous Tatuaje blend called the T110.  I don't know much about the T110 as I have never tried it.   I do know it about 200 boxes were made for a retailer in Hawaii.  I've been told the "T" stands for "thermonuclear" and the cigar itself was a very strong robusto-sized vitola.  Sometimes a limited cigar can be the best prototype for moving a cigar into the core line, so this could have easily been the case of the Fausto.

Like I've heard about its T110 ancestor, the Fausto is a strong cigar.  Let's break down the Fausto and see what it brings to the table:

Blend Profile

The Fausto derives its strength from using higher primings of the tobacco:

Wrapper: Ecuador Habano Maduro
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaraguan including Jalapa/Esteli Ligero

Vitolas Available

There are four core vitolas available, however there is one catch - right now there also is a fifth vitola dubbed "Fausto Avion".   The Avion will contain a different band than the core line Fausto..  The plan is for the Avion to produce a different vitola year to year.  The 2011 Fausto Avion is a box-press perfecto.

FT127 - Robusto: 5 x 54
FT140 - Robusto Extra: 5 1/2 x 52
FT153 - Toro: 6 x 50
FT166 - Short Churchill: 6 1/2 x 48
Avion  (2011) - Box-press Perfecto Grande:  6 3/4 x 48/52

Tatuaje Avion 2011
Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For my cigar experience, I opted for the FT153 Toro.  I placed a straight cut into the cap and commenced the pre-light draw.  The dry draws were not bad, but I wasn't doing handstands either.  The prelight notes contained a lot of earth with some cocoa.  I usually don't let it sway me positive or negative toward a review, but sometimes the pre-light draw can help me frame the scope of what I'm in for once I light up.   Therefore, I took out my butane lighter and fired up the Fausto.

Flavor Profile

One thing that impressed me from an intangible standpoint is how the Fausto had a true "old school feel" to it in terms of flavor.  The start of the Fausto treated me to notes of earth and hay.   This is not normally the way I like a cigar to start, but balanced against some of the strength - the Fausto pulls these flavors off right.  Shortly afterwards the cocoa notes crept back in.  On the after-draw, I picked up a some pepper spice.

As the Fausto moved toward the 10 percent mark, some sweet notes entered the equation.  In this case, the sweet notes had the feel of sugar cane.  As the cigar progressed through the first half, the cocoa notes transitioned into more of a classic chocolate taste.  Combine this with the sugar cane, spice, and earth/hay notes, this was making for a very enjoyable smoking experience.

As the Fausto crossed the halfway point, the chocolate flavor notes were still very much in the forefront.  By this point, the pepper spice had gotten much more pronounced on the entire draw.  Around 60 percent into the smoking experience, I detected some tea notes in the background.   Around this point, the sugar cane, earth and hay had significantly diminished.  The tea notes blended very nicely with the chocolate and the pepper spice.   I was expecting the Fausto to finish as a spice bomb, but I was surprised it didn't.   The finish was very positive with the chocolate, spice, and tea.  There were no harsh notes as I got a nice firm and cool nub on the finish.

Burn and Draw

On the Tatuaje Fausto, the marks are extremely high for both the burn and draw attributes.   The Fausto burned like a champ.  The burn required no significant touch-ups and it burned at a perfect rate and perfect temperature.  The draw was outstanding as well.  No doubt, Pete Johnson is building a core line of very good construction.

Strength and Body

As mentioned above this is a strong cigar.  While I would say the cigar starts out as a "medium to full" from a nicotine profile, but the time it reaches the midway point, it is full strength.  I really felt the nicotine by the end of the Fausto.  The body also started out medium to full in terms of the depth of the flavor notes - and by the end about 1/3 of the way  into the smoke, it was easily full-bodied.   Overall, despite being a stronger smoke in terms of strength, the Fausto does a great job at balancing this strength with the depth of the flavor notes.

Final Thoughts

Tatuaje is always going to create some buzz in the industry, therefore the Fausto has created a lot of buzz because of the company it is associated with..  The nice thing is the Tatuaje Fausto lives up to a lot of those expectations.   In a year where a lot of companies have been turning away from the full strength/full body smokes, it's great to see Tatuaje step up in this direction.   This cigar also brings some nice complexity to the table too.  I'd probably only gear this cigar for a more seasoned enthusiast.  This also is a candidate for box purchase in my book as I can see enjoying this blend for a long time.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: High
Strength: Full (Medium to Full to Start)
Body: Full (Medium to Full to Start)
Assessment: Memorable

Source: The cigar for this assessment were purchased from W.Curtis Draper in Bethesda, Maryland. I had also purchased a five pack of this blend in a "forum trader split".