--> Cigar Coop: December 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown: #1 - CIGAR OF THE YEAR - La Palina El Diario (Part 30 of Epic Encounters)

2011 Cigar of the Year - La Palina El Diario
The best is saved for last.  The 2011 Cigar of the Year countdown has reached a conclusion.   With that point, it is time to announce the #1 cigar for 2011.  This year, the honor for 2011 Cigar of the Year goes to the La Palina El Diario.

Last year, I fell in love with the La Palina Family Series and ranked two of the blends in my Top 7 for 2010.  The El Diario represents a new blend released by La Palina and company founder Bill Paley.  The shoes were going to be tough to fill -especially after La Palina released two outstanding cigars in 2010, yet the El Diario comes through with flying colors.

La Palina is not a big cigar company, but they clearly a boutique cigar company that is on the rise. Last year, Paley launched La Palina Cigars - resurrecting the brand of  his grandfather Samuel Paley.  It is clear from listening to Paley that the goal from the start was to build one of the best cigars in the marketplace.  With his initial launch - the Family Series, it is clear he succeeded in doing this. For his follow-up it's clear that Paley wanted to provide a high quality smoke that can be enjoyed by cigar enthusiasts on a daily basis.   The end result was the launch of the La Palina El Diario (Diario means "daily").  The El Diario has a lower price point than the Family Series. After smoking the El Diario, I felt there was no loss in quality or enjoyment whatsoever.

The La Palina El Diario is an amazing smoke.  The cigar has a highly complex flavor profile, but there is something old school about this cigar.  This old school feel is more of an intangible.  While it takes me back to the days when my grandfather and his friends smoked cigars, it also has modern flavor nuances to balance the old school tobacco taste.  The flavor profile consists of coffee, chocolate, caramel, citrus, pepper, cedar, and baker's spice.  It even has hints of berry and cinnamon. The flavor profile takes many twists and turns along the way - and these vary from vitola to vitola.  The cigar is medium to full in strength - and this balances perfectly with the full-bodied flavors of this cigar.

Once these cigars made it to retailers shelves, they have been consistently excellent in terms of burn and draw.  A truly well-made cigar.

As the #1 cigar, the La Palina El Diario will be inducted automatically into the 2012 Cigar Coop Hall of Fame.  It achieves the Historic/Hall of Fame assessment status as well.  Inductions are scheduled for October, 2012.

Click here for the pre-release assessment done on this cigar. A final assessment rating was given later in the year.

Blend Profile

For a lot of 2011, I have been mentioning the renaissance in Honduran tobacco.  The El Diario leverages a nice share of Honduran tobacco.  The blend has an intriguing mix of Corojo and Criollo.  The El Diario is also made out of the Fabrica de Tobacos Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras.

Wrapper: Honduran Corojo ’99 Rosado
Binder: Honduran Criollo ’98 (Double binder)
Filler: Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 and Criollo ’98

Vitolas Available

The La Palina El Diario was available in five classic vitolas for 2011.  A new vitola "K.B. (Kill Bill)" is being introduced and added to the line in early 2012.

Churchill:  7 x 50
Torpedo:  6 1/8 x 52
Gordo: 6 x 58
Toro: 6 x 50
Robusto: 5 x 52
K.B. (Kill Bill - Petit Corona): 4 1/4 x 40 (Due in 2012)

Recommended Vitola: Robusto

While ultimately I am a big ring gauge fan, it was the Robusto that really captured me.  The 5 x 50 ring gauge was ideal for delivering the flavor profile I mention above.

Note: The 2011 Cigar of the Year festivities do not stop here.  We still have to go through the 2011 Honorable Mentions, 2011 Best New Vitola , 2011 Best Aged Cigars, and Top Cigar Stories for 2011..  These will not be countdowns, but will be done as lists.  They will be released starting January 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively.

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown: #2: La Sirena (Part 29 of Epic Encounters)

#2 La Sirena - Runner Up 2011 Cigar of the Year
The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown has reached the final two Epic Encounters.   With that, I present the cigar that was my selection as #2 Cigar of the Year.   For this selection, we have another blend from the Garcia family - bringing the total to eight cigars in the Top 30 blended by this family.

Coming in at #2 is the La Sirena by Miami Cigars.  First up you might be saying, this was a cigar that came out in 2010.   This was one of those cigars that was right on the bubble on whether it would qualify or not.  This cigar started appearing last November, but was released slowly nationwide through early 2011.  In all reality, this cigar made a big impact in 2011.  I sampled this cigar in Chicago back in February.  From the moment I first sampled this, I knew that this cigar would be contending for Cigar of the Year - or at a minimum a podium spot.

The La Sirena was released in six vitolas.  While I wrote up two assessments during 2011, the one thing that blew me away was how each of the vitolas had their own identity and unique smoking experience.  The La Sirena is your classic full strength and full-bodied smoke.   The flavors are nothing short of amazing.  I've been on the record as saying this is the best cigar ever released by the Garcias - and I stand by that.  The flavor profile has a wonderful complexity to it.  For the most part, I've picked up notes of classic Garcia pepper as well as notes of leather, cocoa, mocha, coffee, and some very unique sweetness.  Along the way I picked up flavors of honey-nut and even hints of sambuca.  Some of the vitolas vary a bit on the degrees of the notes, but ultimately this was a home run.  I've recommended this cigar to many - and nobody has been disappointed.

Click here for the full assessment done on the King Poseidon vitola. Click here for the full assessment done on the La Sirena Serie A vitola.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
Binder: Nicaraguan Habano and Nicaraguan Corojo
Filler: Nicaraguan Criollo ’98 and Nicaraguan Corojo ’96

Vitolas Available

The Series A vitola was released later in 2011, but uses a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper.  The other vitolas were released on the initial launch.

Series A: 9.25 x 48
Sea Sprite: 5.5 x 42
The Prince: 5 x 50
Divine: 5.5 x 52 (figurado)
King Poseidon: 6 x 60
Trident: 7 x 50

Recommended Vitola: King Poseidon.

Everyone knows I am a big ring gauge fan and in my opinion, when a blend works in a big ring gauge - it is nothing short of spectacular.  For the 6 x 60 King Poseidon vitola, this is nothing short of a home run.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cigar Review: Adrian's CroMagnon

Adrian's CroMagnon
The Adrian's CroMagnon line is a retail exclusive cigar sold exclusively through an online retailer called Hava Cigar Shop.  While many retailers have their own online exclusives, the CroMagnon seems to have developed an interesting following - perhaps more-so than any other retail exclusive blend I've seen.  Add to the intrigue is that this blend does not have a big name blender behind it. I figured it was time to explore what the buzz about the CroMagnon was all about.  Overall, I did find the CroMagnon a positive smoking experience.

First up, some brief background.   The CroMagnon is a joint project done by the owner of Hava Cigar Shop, Skip Martin and by an independent tabaquero named Michael Rosales.  Rosales is the founder of Adrian's Costa Rican Cigars.  These cigars were introduced about three years ago. As per the name of the company, these cigars leverage Costa Rican tobacco in the blends.  The CroMagnon is the first of Adrian's Cigars made in Esteli, Nicaragua.   It does not leverage Costa Rican tobacco in the blend.

Let's look closer at the blend of the Adrian's CroMagnon and see what it brings to the table.


Blend Profile

The Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper provides a rich, oily look to this cigar.   It has many visible veins that look very nice against the oily background of the wrapper.  In general, the blend is intriguing as it uses a Cameroon binder and three Nicaraguan fillers.

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf (USA)
Binder: Cameroon
Filler: Nicaraguan (3 Fillers): Esteli, Condega, and a ligero leaf from a small farm north of Esteli on the Honduran border.

Vitolas Available

The CroMagnon is available in five vitolas that they refer to as "The Taxonomy".   What I like is how they are all available as parejos.  In general, I think too many cigars are made into torpedos and perfectos when they shouldn't be, so it's encouraging to see an all vitola offering.  Each vitola has its own unique identity.  I've included the SRP of each of the cigars as well.  Each of the cigars are unbanded.

The Knuckle Dragger (Petit Robusto):  4 x 52  - $6.00
The Mandible (Petit Gordo): 4 ½ x 60 - $6.50
The EMH (Early Modern Human) (Robusto Extra): 5 x 56 -  $7.00
The Anthropology (Grand Corona): 5 ¾ x 46 - $7.50
The Cranium (Gran Toro): 6 x 54 - $8.00

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this cigar, I smoked the Cranium vitola.   When I have my choice of vitola, I always gravitate toward the big ring gauge.  In this case, I was gifted this cigar without the giver knowing my preference. I placed a straight cut into the cap of the CroMagnon Cranium and commenced with the pre-light draw.  The dry draw notes were not too exciting, but still were satisfactory - providing notes of cedar with hints of leather and chocolate.   At this point, I fired up the CroMagnon and wanted to see what else would be in-store.

Flavor Profile

The CroMagnon has a spicy start consisting of a cross between cedar and pepper. This could basically be categorized as a spice blast.  As the spice settles, it moves into the background and takes on more of a flavor of exotic spice.   At the same time there are notes of nut and earth that take over in the forefront.

About five percent into the smoking experience, I detected some coffee flavors.  The flavors of this cigar are very much layered on each other - meaning I can pick out each of the flavors individually as opposed to flavors that are 'fused" together.  The profile of this cigar in the first third is nut as the primary note, the exotic spice as a secondary note, and the coffee/earth as tertiary notes.

As the CroMagnon moves into the second third, the coffee notes move up to the secondary flavor as the spice becomes more of a tertiary note.  It is in the second third where the coffee notes take on more of a mocha taste.  The midway point is where the flavors start to blend more - namely the nut and mocha notes blend together in the forefront - making for an interesting taste.

The last third of this cigar saw much of the flavors that were present in the first 2/3 dissipate.  The flavors got very generic - much of the flavor was a combination of leather and some spice.  The bar was set high in the first two thirds of this smoke, but unfortunately the CroMagnon did not live up to it in the last third.  It wasn't a bad finish, just kind of a boring one.  The cigar did not finish harsh.  It did finish with a very nice cool and firm nub.

Burn and Draw

This was a very well-made cigar and it reflected well in the construction attributes of burn and draw.  No burn issues - the burn held relatively straight for most of the smoke.  It required some touch-ups, but nothing terribly major.  The burn rate and burn temperature were ideal.  The ash was tight and white for most of the smoke.  As for the draw, there was a little tightness on it, but normally I like that.  The draw made this a was a very pleasant cigar to smoke.

Burn of Adrian's CroMagnon
Strength and Body

From looking at the CroMagnon with its dark, oily wrapper - I expected a ton of nicotine from this.   From my perspective, it did not overwhelm me.  At the same time, it provided a nice dose of power to make this a satisfying smoke.  I assessed the strength of the CroMagnon as medium to full.   As for the body, there was some nice depth to the flavors.  There was a point I thought this would move into the full-bodied area, but this held medium to full for the majority of the smoking experience.   I thought on the last third, the strength got a little bit of an edge over the body, but for the most part - the strength and body balanced each other out throughout the smoke.

Final Thoughts

There was a lot of hype surrounding this release.  As I mentioned, it probably got more hype than any other retail exclusive cigar I've seen from an indie/boutique company.   The first two thirds of this cigar were very good.  I do admit, the last third was not bad, but not up to the first two thirds of this cigar.   Still I think this cigar is one I would smoke again.  I'm eager to see how this blend works in the other vitolas.  I'm not sure I would recommend this to the novice cigar enthusiast, but I can see the experienced cigar enthusiast smoking this and I'd certainly encourage one to try it.  Overall a quality smoke - and one I would like to see on brick and mortar retail shops someday.

Summary

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


Source: I was given this cigar at some point at the 2011 IPCPR.  I believe I can trace this back to a Drew Estate after-hours party.  I apologize in advance for not remembering who gave me this cigar.  Cigar Coop is appreciative for this sample, but in no way does this influence the final outcome of this assessment.

Cigar Review: Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011

Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011
I travel around the country quite a bite.  As a part of my travels I usually try to find a good cigar shop to enjoy a cigar.  One thing I always ask the tobacconist is what do you have in new and what do you have that I might not find elsewhere.   For the past few months, I've made an occasional stop at W.Curtis Draper in Bethesda, Maryland.   On a trip earlier this month, when I posed those questions, the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 came up as a potential cigar.   I usually try to keep on top of many cigar brands and releases, but I had not heard of these before.   Since I have a solid level of trust for the folks working at Draper's, I opted to pick up a one of these.   I recently got around to smoking this cigar.  In the end, this definitely qualifies as an "under the radar" cigar that delivered an excellent smoking experience.

Tortuga Cigars is owned by cigar maker Victor Vitale.   They produce two core line cigars - the Tortuga 1948 Connecticut Shade Smooth and the Tortuga 1950 Natural Aged Maduro.  The Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada is intended to be a true limited release cigar.  I don't have specific numbers but on the Tortuga website availability is listed as "Extremely Limited".   I'll infer from this cigar is being sent to Tortuga authorized retailers in small quantities.

Another view of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 - other side of band
Ultimately, it is going to come down to how good the cigar is.  Let's take a closer look at the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011.

Blend Profile

The blend of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 consists of tobaccos from the "Big Three" countries - Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  A good chunk of the tobacco comes from Honduras - thus holding to my theory about 2011 being a renaissance year for Honduran tobacco.  The cigar itself is made in the Dominican Republic.

Wrapper: Nicaraguan
Binder: Honduran
Filler: Honduran and Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

The Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 is available in three vitolas.   The cigars are sold ten to a box.

Robusto: 5 x 52
Torpedo: 6 x 54
Toro: 6 x 54

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this assessment of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada, I went with the Robusto vitola. As I usually do, I opted for a straight cut.  When I started the pre-light draw, I was treated to notes of blackberry and wood.  I'm going to mention blackberry a lot, so I want to make a disclaimer.  I had read earlier on the Tortuga website about some of the blackberry flavors.  At the same time, this is a flavor note I had no problem detecting.  At this point, I was very anxious to fire up my Tortuga 215 and see what else I was in store for.

Flavor Profile

The initial draws of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 provided me with a decent shot of pepper on both the tongue and nostrils.  The pepper subsided to the background for the remainder of the smoke.  At this point,  I picked up a mix of caramel and blackberry sweetness.   Blackberry notes are not new to me with a cigar.  This is something that made me fall in love with the La Palina Family Blend Alison over a year ago.   These flavors held for the first third and gave the Tortuga 215 a very nice start.

As the Tortuga 215 progressed into the second third, I noticed the caramel notes diminish, but not completely disappear.  I was happy the blackberry sweetness remained.  I also noticed some classic oak notes emerge in the second third.   As the Totruga 215 moved into the final third, I detected some floral notes.  These floral notes - along with the blackberry were the primary notes.   The floral/blackberry flavors had a very "tobaccco-like" taste to it, so I don't want to confuse it with a potpourri.   The caramel, oak, and pepper notes were in the background.   This is the way the flavor profile came to a close.  The finish was not harsh.   The resulting nub was soft and warm.

Burn and Draw

The burn and draw of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 was the story of two halves - with the first half being stronger than the second half.  For the first half, the burn was razor sharp and provided me a tight, white ash.   The draw was effortless in the first half.   On the second half, the burn did require a lot more in the way of touch-ups.  The draw also got a little tighter.   Overall the burn rate and burn temperature were ideal.  Had the burn and draw been as solid as it was in the first half, it would have gotten perfect scores.   Still, this wasn't a bad burn or draw.   I will also disclaim that I smoked one cigar for this review, so this could be the byproduct of a hand-made product.

Burn and Tight Ash of the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011
Strength and Body

The nicotine profile was very interesting in this cigar.   The Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada 2011 definitely was a classic medium-strength cigar in the first half.  I felt as the smoking experience progressed, the Tortuga 215 increased in strength.  It moved to medium to full in the second half, and hit full strength by the last third.   The strength definitely crept up on me.

As for the body, the flavor depth was medium-bodied to start.  Like the strength, the body increased as the cigar experience progressed.  The cigar goes toward medium to full toward the last third.   For most of the cigar the strength and body balance very well, but toward the end, I actually thought the strength had an edge. 

Final Thoughts

This was a very nice find of a cigar.  I would definitely love to pick up a couple of more of these cigars in the future.  As I mentioned above, I'm more inclined to think the burn and draw issues were due to more of a hand-made factor.  I felt the Tortuga 215 Edicion Limitada was a well-made cigar - that brought some very different flavors to the table. I'd probably lean on giving this to more of an experienced cigar enthusiast because of the subtle complexities in the flavor profile - and because I felt this cigar had a stronger finish.  At a minimum, if I cannot pick up some more of these, I'm inclined to give the core line offerings a try.

Summary

Burn: Good
Draw: Good
Complexity: Medium
Strength: Medium (progresses to Medium to Full and Full by the end)
Body: Medium (progresses to Medium to Full by the last third)
Assessment: Nice to Have

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cigar Review: K.A. Kendall's 7-20-4 1874 Series

7-20-4 1874 Series
At each IPCPR trade show, there seems to be an indie/boutique company that becomes the talk of the show.  In 2010, that company was 7-20-4 cigars.  The 7-20-4 cigar is the brainchild of Kurt Kendall.  Kendall owns  Twins Smoke Shop in New Hampshire.  The cigar was named after an older line that started in New Hampshire over 100 years ago, but went defunct.  The name 7-20-4 comes from the address of where that original stick was made - 724 Elm Street.  Kendall basically resurrected the line when he released his initial 7-20-4 cigar.   Following the show, a lot of people were wondering what 7-20-4 would do for an encore.  Shortly before IPCPR, a new 7-20-4 cigar - the K.A. Kendall's 7-20-4 1874 Series appeared.   To my surprise, this cigar has not gotten the fanfare of the initial 7-20-4 release (see footnote #1 at end of the article).  However, I contend that this was a very good cigar - and a case where the sequel is better than the initial (which was also a very good cigar).

The 7-20-4 1874 Series is a completely different cigar.  The name 1874 represents the year that the factory that made the original 7-20-4 factory opened.  I've visited Kendall's shop in New Hampshire a little over a year ago, and I saw his passion for nostaglia.  It is no surprise the cigars are named as is.

Let's take a closer look at the 7-20-4 1874 Series:

Blend Profile

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this blend is the use of an Indonesian binder.  My guess is that this provided a nice edge in terms of flavor for the 7-20-4 1874 Series.  The Nicaraguan wrapper has a natural look to it.  It is very smooth with minimal veins.

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Jalapa Habano
Binder:  Indonesian
Filler: Nicaraguan Jalapa and Nicaraguan Esteli

Vitolas Available

At this time there are three sizes available with the 7-20-4 1874 Series:

Robusto Especial: 5 1/4 x 52
Series Corona Especial: 6  x 46
Series Torpedo Especial: 6 1/2 x 54

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this assessment, I selected the Robusto Especial.   I placed a straight cut into the cap and commenced with a pre-light draw.  The dry draw notes were very nice - a nice dose of cedar combined with hints of vanilla.  At this point, I was ready to place a torch to the foot and fire up my 7-20-4 1874 Series.

Flavor Profile

The 7-20-4 1874 Series immediately gives off a quick dose of pepper.  The pepper settled down and the vanilla notes that were present on the pre-light draw resurfaced.  These vanilla notes were definitely bolder (but not overpowering) than on the pre-light and join the pepper in the forefront.

About 20 percent into the cigar experience, some cream and natural sugar cane joined the flavor profile.   The vanilla notes continued to ramp up. Around this point, I also detected pepper through the nostrils as well.  The remainder of the smoking experience featured the pepper, vanilla, and sugar cane alternating as to which one is in the forefront.   The 7-20-4 1874 Series finished very smooth.   The nub was a little warm, but it was firm.

Burn and Draw

Kendall's initial 7-20-4 cigar was a quality cigar in terms of what I term the construction attributes of burn and draw.  The 7-20-4 1874 Series picks right up where the core 7-20-4 left off.  The burn of the 1874 Series was straight requiring very little in the way of touch-ups.  It burned at an ideal rate and ideal temperature.  The draw was outstanding and was as good as one can get.

Strength and Body

The strength of the 7-20-4 1874 Series did not overpower me with tons of nicotine.  It provided the right amount of pop allowing for this cigar to be assessed as medium strength.   The flavor notes had some nice depth to them.   I would classify the notes as medium to full-bodied.   The strength and body balance each other very well - providing the right amount of strength and the right amount of flavor.

Final Thoughts

I'll restate to what I said earlier - I'm shocked how much this cigar flew under the radar in 2011 (see footnote #1 at end of article).  This is a very good cigar.  If I sampled this one earlier in the year, it would have certainly been in consideration for a spot on my 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown.  This is the kind of cigar I would recommend to either a novice or experienced cigar enthusiast as I feel each can find attributes of this cigar to enjoy.  As for myself, this is not only a cigar I would buy again, but one worthy of a box purchase.

Summary

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

Source: The cigars for this assessment were purchased from Tobacco World in Marietta, Georgia.

Notes:

At the time of this assessment, it now appears this cigar was in a limited release mode and that very few retailers have had it.   This is probably much of the reason why this cigar "flew under the radar".  On February 18, 2012, a formal press release was issued and it appears that there is going to be a full-blown launch of the cigar.

Announcement: CRA Ambassador for North Carolina



This announcement started making its way through various social media mechanisms, but I thought I would post this on the web-site.  Yesterday, it was announced that I have been named a Cigar Rights of America (CRA) Ambassador representing the State of North Carolina.

Those who know me know that I am passionate about the cigar industry as well as protecting this industry. Cigar consumers, retailers, and manufacturers face no greater threat to their individual freedoms and liberties than they do right now.  We are seeing this with the FDA moving in to control our industry, and we are seeing Washington DC exercise its heavy hand as well. Look no further than the hypocrisy involved with forcing Camacho Cigars out of the Orange Bowl and you can see the impact of this heavy hand. I'm proud to serve the cigar community and will work with you to fight to preserve these freedoms.

CRA was founded on the principle of fighting for the freedom to enjoy cigars.  It is a consumer-based, non-profit public advocacy organization that works at the local, state, and federal level of government to protect the freedoms of cigar enthusiasts.  There are four core areas involved in this fight:

1.Oppressive Restrictive Smoking Bans
2.Government Regulation of Cigars
3.Oppose Taxation of Cigars
4.Policy Measures Relating to Cigars 

This is not an easy fight.  Our opponents are well-funded and laser-focused on destroying the cigar industry. The CRA represents our vehicle to represent us in this fight.   Te good news is the cigar community is not taking this sitting down.   The CRA is at the forefront in not only countering our opponent, but going on the offensive to protect this industry.  To do this, they need to have the resource both financially and people-wise to counter our opponents.

I look forward to serving the cigar community but we also need your help.  I am encouraging every cigar enthusiast to join the CRA.  While there are some incentives to join such free cigars and discounts, it is more important you know that your money is going to fund our fight.  The CRA website does a great job at informing us on the progress being made.  There is also an iPhone app available as well.

At a minimum, take two minutes to take action to support bills HR 1639 and S 1461.  This is proposed legislation to exempt the premium cigar industry from FDA control.  Without a doubt, pending FDA control is our most grave threat right now.

Finally, this website will continue to operate as is. It will remain a hardcore information resource for content related to cigars and legislation. In fact, I'll have some new things to share come Janaury 1st related to the cigar end of things.

Yours in smoke,
Will
CRA Ambassador #0159

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown: #3 Tatuaje Anarchy (Part 28 of Epic Encounters)

#3 Tatuaje Anarchy
The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown has reached the spots for the podium.  These are the top three cigars for 2011 and represent the most epic of all cigar encounters.   For the first spot on the podium comes the third entry in the Top 30 Tatuaje Cigars, the seventh blend in the Top 30 by the Garcia family, and the second entry of Smoke Inn's Microblend series.

Coming in at #3 is the Tatuaje Anarchy.   Right off the bat, you might say that this was a 2010 cigar.  Remember, the cigar year goes approximately from Thanksgiving 2010 through Thanksgiving 2011 for the purposes of this countdown.  This cigar pretty much came out on the borderline, but so I am including it for the purposes of this countdown.   While this cigar was released 2010, it made its impact in 2011.

The Tatuaje Anarchy is a cigar that is only available from Smoke Inn in Florida.  It was the first release of Smoke Inn's "Microblend Series". The intent of the Microblend Series is to a produce a limited run of retail exclusive cigars made by some of the biggest manufacturers.  In this case, Smoke Inn owner Abe Dababneh teamed up with the Pete Johnson of Tatuaje  for this exclusive blend.  Normally, I'm skeptical about including a retail exclusive cigar in a "Cigar of the Year" countdown, but Dababneh and Smoke Inn have sold these over the internet - so it has been readily available for cigar enthusiasts.

The Tatuaje Anarchy has a highly complex flavor profile.  It features notes of trademark Pepin pepper, roasted coffee, molasses, leather, cream, and cane sugar.  Overall the flavors are full-bodied, and the strength starts out medium to full and graduates to full.  Normally I am not a fan of perfectos because I think they often are a challenge to burn, but the Anarchy burns like a champ each and every time.  In addition, it has one of the best draws on a perfecto I ever had.

Click here for the full assessment done on this cigar.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

The Tatuaje Anarchy is a perfecto that is 6 1/8 x 48-52.

Note: There will be a break in the countdown on December 30, 2011 and on December 31st, the #1 and #2 cigars will be announced.

Cigar Review: Illusione Ultra

Illusione Ultra MK
At the 2011 IPCPR Retail Trade Show, there were two cigar blends that were being showcased by Illusione Cigars.  The first was the new maduro line being added to Illusione's core line.  The second was the release of the new Illusione Ultra.  While the Ultra had garnered a lot of attention, this is not exactly a new cigar.  The Ultra had been released in small limited quantities in the past.  Illusione founder Dion Giolito decided to modify the blend and release it as a new line in the Illusione portfolio.  Recently, I've had a chance to final sample this new blend.  Overall, my assessment is that was a good cigar with some very unique flavors.

This new line features a new band - a black background with a white font.  Right now the Ultra blend is currently available in one vitola - a petit corona size.   The size is named "MK" which is in-line with the Illusione core line.  On the Illusione Cigars' web-site, Giolito tells the story with the MK vitola (as he does with most of his vitolas).  This provides some background on the Ultra project in the past.

"As with my 88, I sampled a few to you in the forums for review when I was re-working on the blend in ’06. I did the same with the mk. There were two versions, the ~MK~ and the MKULTRA. MKULTRA was much stronger than I wanted it to be. I called Paul Palmer which in turn relayed my information to the factory to correct the issue. They have a gold band along with the ~hl~ because they’re more of an artisan blend better represented in those particular sizes. They’re 20% different than regular illusione black and white bands. As some of you know, I let out my stock of MKULTRAS because I just wasn’t pleased with the blend. You guys ate them up! Thanks. Project MKULTRA was a government experiment in creating 'zombie soldiers' if you will, through experimentation with LSD and subconscious suggestion when under the influence. MKULTRA was also referred to as the 'teaching machine.' The classic corona size is the teaching machine vitola. It is the perfect vehicle for delivery of flavor, if the blend is right." (Source: http://www.illusionecigars.com/story_numbers.swf)

Before I break down this cigar, I will mention that I have not smoked the previous incarnation of the Ultra, so this assessment is based on the new blend.

Blend Profile

The new blend features a very attractive chocolate-colored corojo wrapper.   The corojo wrapper is a new addition to this blend.  From an appearance standpoint, this is one of the best looking petit coronas I've ever seen.

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

As mentioned before, there currently is a single vitola available on the Illusione Ultra - the MK.  This is a 5 1/8 x 42 sized petit corona.

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

As I usually do, I opted for a straight cut into the Illusione Ultra.  The pre-light draw provided me some very promising notes of coffee and cherry sweetness.  This was definitely a positive experience from the dry draw notes.   At this point, I was pretty excited to fire up my Ultra and see what it would bring to the table.

Flavor Profile

The initial flavors of the Ultra was very interesting.  I immediately detected some coffee notes, but I also detected some sour cherry.   The sour cherry might seem a little crazy of a flavor note, but somehow I do think it worked as a positive as it provided a unique sweet tone without being too sweet.  I also detected notes of leather and oak in the background.

As the cigar progressed, the coffee, oak, and sour cherry flavor notes took turns alternating in the forefront.  By the midpoint of the Ultra, some pepper notes came into play.  The pepper notes never become overwhelming and provide a nice complement to the other notes.  Much of the sweetness fades in the second half and the oak and pepper notes take center stage.  Overall, I found the second half to be a decent smoke, but it lacked a lot of the complexity and robustness of the first half.

The finish was very smooth.   My nub was slightly warm, but it was firm as opposed to soft.

Burn and Draw

The one thing I struggled a bit was the draw on the two Ultras that I sampled.  It each case, I found the draw to be on the tight side - and at times I had to fight with it.   The positive is that the tight draw did not seem to impact the burn.  The burn turned out to be excellent - burning straight throughout the whole cigar experience.  The burn rate and burn temperature were ideal throughout the smoke.

Strength and Body

I had heard (and from reading above), the original MKULTRA was a strong cigar.  I still was expecting this cigar to be strong. Overall, I did not find the Illusione Ultra to be a power bomb in terms of strength.  In my book, it qualfies as a medium-strength cigar.   For the most part, the body of this cigar falls into the medium-bodied spectrum.  While the flavors were less interesting toward the end, the body did move into the medium to full area.

Final Thoughts

I should put a disclaimer that I am not a fan of the petit corona vitola.  If other vitolas of this blend are released, I am curious to see how they smoke.  Still despite this not being my ideal vitola, this was one of the better ones.  Overall, the draw and the less interesting flavors in the second half were some of the negatives with this smoke.  It is still something I would reach for again.   It is a cigar I would recommend to a novice enthusiast.  As for experienced enthusiasts, I think they can appreciate some of the qualities this cigar brings to the table.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Fair
Complexity: Medium
Strength: Medium
Body: Medium (Medium to Full toward end)
Assessment: Nice to Have


Source: The cigars for this assessment were purchased from Tobacco World in Marietta, Georgia.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cigar Review: Alec Bradley Fine and Rare

Alec Bradley Fine and Rare
In 2011, you can make an argument that Tatuaje's Wolfman was one of the most sought after cigars by cigar enthusiasts.  If I had to say what was the second most sought after cigar, I would have to say it was Alec Bradley's Fine and Rare.  In fact at the 2011 IPCPR Trade Show, the Fine and Rare was on sale and sold out of the initial allotment of 1,000 boxes before it was even released (although 1,1,11 were released - more on additional allotments later).  It has been released in small batches to retailers in a Viaje-like fashion.   Recently, I finally had an opportunity to sample one of these cigars.  Overall, the experience with the cigar was positive one and this might be the best Alec Bradley release to date.

The Alec Bradley Fine and Rare has its origins in August 2010 when a team of rollers blended a cigar with ten different tobaccos.  According to Alec Bradley president Alan Rubin, he believes this is the only cigar that uses ten different tobaccos in a cigar.   The boxes of the cigars feature a level of personalization as it contains the signatures of the rollers, factory supervisor as well as Alan Rubin and Rafael Montero from Alec Bradley. With a limited allotment of boxes, this cigar is intended to be an ultra-premium offering by Alec Bradley and will have an SRP of around $14.00 per cigar.

Let's take a closer look at the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare:

Blend Profile

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

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

Vitolas Available

There are three vitolas available.  The most common vitola is the 6 x 52 toro.  There are also torpedos and perfectos available in certain limited boxes (I do not have the dimensions of these vitolas).   The total number of boxes produced was 1,111 and this coincided with the release date of 11/11/11.  Here is a breakdown of the boxes and what vitolas were contained.

1000 boxes - containing ten toros.
100 boxes - containing ten toros and ten torpedos.
11 boxes - containing ten toros, ten torpedoes, and ten perfectos (These boxes are being made available for charity only)

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this assessment, I smoked a Toro.  While the torpedo and perfecto are harder to get, the toro is my preferred vitola over the others, so I had no issues going with it.  I placed a straight cut into the cap of my Alec Bradley Fine and Rare.  I enjoyed the pre-light draw right off the bat.  The dry notes gave me flavors of coffee and leather.  There was also a slight touch of cedar in the background.  Overall, the pre-light experience was very positive, so it was time to fire up my Fine and Rare.

Flavor Profile

The initial draws of the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare provided me with a quick shot of cedar spice.  The cigar mellowed quickly and settled into a flavor profile of leather notes (primary), coffee notes (secondary), and subtle notes of cream, cedar and dried fruit in the background (tertiary).  The profile was very smooth to start.

About ten percent into the flavors in the profile above got bolder.  As the cigar entered the second third, the cedar and coffee notes would push toward the forefront and become the primary notes.  As the flavors moved into the final third, wood notes would then surface as the primary flavor.  Throughout the whole smoking experience, the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare maintained its smoothness right until the end.  The nub on the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare was cool and firm - the way you would expect a high quality cigar to finish.

While the flavors were very satisfying, perhaps the only disappointing factor is I expected much more in the way of flavor transitions and complexity with a ten tobacco cigar.   This doesn't negate the smoking experience of a cigar, but it would have been a nice bonus.

Burn and Draw

When a cigar is classified as "ultra-premium" and carries a hefty price tag, there is no room for error when it comes to burn and draw.  The great news is the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare comes through with flying colors.  The burn was razor-sharp throughout the smoking experience - requiring very little in the way of touch-ups.  It burned at an ideal rate and ideal temperature.  The ash had a little flowering, but nothing major.   The draw was flawless making this a very enjoyable smoking experience.

Burn of the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare
Strength and Body

From a strength perspective, the Alec Bradley Fine and Rare is not going to be a nicotine bomb.   It is your classic medium strength cigar.   From a body perspective, this cigar doesn't provide a deep flavor pop, but it provides just enough depth in the flavors to be more than satisfying.   This cigar easily falls into the medium-bodied zone. Great balance between the strength and the flavors help enhance the experience with the Fine and Rare.

Final Thoughts

Up front I mentioned that this is a tough cigar to get.   I think if you go in expecting this to be a powerful and complex cigar, you will be disappointed.   If you want to smoke what is a very good medium-strength, medium-bodied, and medium-complexity cigar - this cigar is a textbook case study for how one of these should smoke.  It's definitely the best Alec Bradley I've had to date.  I smoked this after the deadline for my 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown, so it does not appear on the list.   An experienced cigar enthusiast who appreciates a classic medium/medium cigar will like this.  Novice cigar enthusiasts may want to reach for this as a special occasion cigar.   I personally look forward to smoking this again.

Summary

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


Source: The cigar for this assessment was purchased from Tobacco World in Marietta, Georgia.

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown: #4: Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Limited Edition 2011 (Maduro) (Part 27 of Epic Encounters)

#4 Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Limited Edition 2011
The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown has reached the Final Four.   Perhaps no family has dominated this list like the Garcia family.  Up to this point, the Garcias have placed six cigars on the Top 30 list.  Two cigars have been blended for Tatuaje (#11 Wolfman, #20 Fausto) and three cigars under the My Father line.  Now a fourth My Father Cigar enters the list.

Coming in at #4 is the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial  Limited Edition 2011 Maduro.   This cigar joins its companion cigar - #17 Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Limited Edition Connecticut, #24 My Father El Hijo, and #26 My Father Limited Edition 2011.   However this perhaps might be the finest cigar to come out from the Garcia family. 

Before its release at the 2011 IPCPR, I had a chance to sample an early unbanded pre-release, and I knew this had Final Four material written on it at that point.  When the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial  Limited Edition 2011s were released, they did provide a memorable experience. Add a few weeks of age to these cigars, and they got even better - providing a very good draw and burn.  The experience with the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial  Limited Edition 2011 is one that is a full strength, full-bodied smoke.  It won't knock you out with the strength, but it still has plenty of it.  The flavor profile provides notes of sweet chocolate, cocoa, espresso syrup, cedar, and baker's spice.   I also detected flavors of raisin, licorice, and orange citrus.  While some of the flavor notes might seem to be very "sweet" in nature, this is not the case with the Limited Edition 2011.

Click here for the full assessment done on this cigar.

Blend Profile

The use of a Nicaraguan Broadleaf Viso and Pelo de Oro on the binder/filler make a big differentiator on this cigar.

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Broadleaf Viso
Binder: Nicaraguan Cuban-seed (including Pelo de Oro)
Filler: Nicaraguan Cuban-seed (including Pelo de Oro)

Vitolas Available

There was be a single vitola made - a 6 1/2 x 52 Toro.   This is consistent to what the My Father Limited Edition cigar sizes have been.

Recommended Vitola: Toro (Default)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Press Release: Toraño Family Cigar Co. Hosts 2nd Annual Holiday Toy Drive in Miami

 The cigar industry demonstrates why it is a leader when it comes to giveback....


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TORANO FAMILY CIGAR CO. HOSTS 2ND ANNUAL HOLIDAY TOY DRIVE IN MIAMI

Jorge Guevara of 880 the Biz, Franklin Monjarrez of Neat Stuff for Kids and Carlos Llaca-Torano with toys collected at Toy Drive
(Miami, FL) December 27, 2011Toraño Family Cigar Co. partnered up with media sponsors Cigar Snob Magazine, Social Florida Magazine, and South Florida Luxury Magazine along with local radio station 880 AM The Biz for the second annual Toraño Family Holiday Toy Drive this past Wednesday, December 7. This toy drive benefits Neat Stuff for Kids which is a Miami based non for profit organization whose main focus is to provide brand new clothing to children who come from abused and underprivileged homes. 

Toraño Family Cigar Co. hosted over 300 guests at Andalus restaurant located in the vibrant Design District in Miami. Guests were asked to bring an unwrapped toy to be part of this amazing gathering which featured Torano family’s award winning cigars and cocktails courtesy of Abuelo Rum and Chambord Vodka. Guests were also treated to delicious bites courtesy of Andalus which specializes in gourmet Spanish cuisine.

Toraño Family Cigar Co. was represented by Carlos Llaca-Toraño and Jack Toraño who provided a wide array of Toraño cigars to include new release Loyal. Guests smoked Toraño’s best under the Miami stars in Andalus’ smoker friendly terrace. Carlos and Jack were only happy to cut and light cigars for guests while sharing information with event goers about Toraño family history and its cigars blends.

Franklin Monjarrez, Executive Director of Neat Stuff for Kids who is a Toraño cigar smoker himself said, “It is special when a local company like Torano Family Cigar Co. cares enough about the community to once again host this amazing event benefiting our charity which helps those children who need help the most.

Charlie Toraño, President of Toraño Family Cigar Co. said,” We appreciate the support we receive from our community here in South Florida and the best way to show that appreciation is to give back to those who need help the most. Neat Stuff for Kids is truly an amazing organization that touches the lives of underprivileged children every day. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to host this Holiday event for the second time which brought awareness to its cause.”

A leader in the cigar industry, Toraño Family Cigar Company is a four generation company currently based in Miami, FL. It enjoys a rich heritage and history in tobacco growing and manufacturing. For more information: www.torano.com. Please also follow Toraño on Face book: Toraño A family Cigar Company or on Twitter: @TORANOFAMCIGARS.

Source: This press release was sent by Creativas Group Public Relations, a group that handles public relations for Toraño Family Cigars. Cigar Coop will post press releases as a service to all cigar companies that choose to send Cigar Coop press releases.

Cigar Pre-Review: Nat Sherman Timeless Collection

Nat Sherman Timeless - Unbanded sample (Churchill Vitola)
For those who are from or lived in New York City, Nat Sherman is a legendary tobacconist located in the heart of midtown Manhattan. In addition to being a retail store, Nat Sherman carries their own lines of cigars.  One of the newest cigars to be released by Nat Sherman is the Timeless Collection.  The Timeless Collection  was one of the first projects done by Nat Sherman's new executive director of retail and brand development, Michael Herklots.   Herklots joined Nat Sherman in April, 2011.  He was previously the general manager of Davidoff's New York City retail stores.  Part of why Herklots was brought in was to boost the Nat Sherman brand on both the retail and tobacco side.   The Timeless Collection cigar is a high quality product that clearly takes that first step to showcasing the legendary name of Nat Sherman in the tobacco world.

For the Timeless Collection,  Nat Sherman has teamed up with the Quesada family of MATASA (Manufactura de Tabacos S.A) to make the cigar.   The Quesadas are well-known for their work with the Fonseca, Casa Magna, and Quesada brands.  MATASA has worked with Nat Sherman in the past to develop the Metropolitan line.  To make sure they targeted the blend to the right market segment, Nat Sherman solicited detailed feedback from retailers and consumers on everything from the blend, packaging, and pricing.

The Nat Sherman Timeless Collection has already been launched at the midtown Manhattan "Townhouse" retail store.  The plan is to roll out the Timeless Collection to retailers early next  year.   I recently had an opportunity to sample a pre-release of the Timeless Collection cigar.  Since this was an unbanded sample, I opted to do a "Pre-Review" and provide some detailed feedback.  I will provide a final assessment rating at a later time.

Blend Profile

The Timeless Collection leverages tobaccos from what I term the "Big 3" - Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

Wrapper: Honduran
Binder: Dominican
Filler: Dominican, Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

The Timeless Collection will be sold in boxes of 20.  It currently is available in four vitolas.

Churchill: 7 x 48 
Hermoso 5 1/4 x 54 
No. 2 6 1/4 x 52 (Torpedo)
No. 5: 3 3/4 x 43 

Banding of the Nat Sherman Timeless Collection - picture from "The Good Life Diaries"

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

For this Pre-Review, I had the opportunity to sample the Churchill vitola.  I placed a straight cut into the beautiful cap of the Timeless Collection cigar and commenced with the pre-light draw.  The dry draw notes treated me to a nice mix of cocoa and leather.  The pre-light draw flavors were simple, yet satisfying.  At this point, I was ready to toast the foot and enjoy the cigar experience ahead of me.

Flavor Profile

The initial flavors of the Timeless provided a quick shot of pepper.  The pepper quickly settled down and some classic cocoa powder notes joined the pepper spice.  Around five percent into the cigar experience, the cocoa powder notes morphed to a classic coffee flavor. As the smoke of the Timeless progressed through the first third, an interesting twist occurred as I detected flavors of lemon citrus. It was around this point that I also noticed the pepper spice move down a notch again.   It was safe to say the flavor profile was: coffee notes primary, lemon citrus notes secondary, and pepper tertiary.

In the second third of the Timeless, the coffee flavors that were present in the first third were replaced by nut flavors.  These nut flavors took over in the forefront.  The citrus notes diminished and joined the spice notes in the background.   Toward the beginning of the final third, some classic oak notes emerged.  The spice kicked it up a bit - joining the nut flavors.  The spice never overpowered and the Timeless remained smooth right until the end.  The nub was soft and cool on the finish.

Burn and Draw

While this was an unbanded sample, the Timeless scored some nice marks with the construction attributes of burn and draw.   The burn of the timeless was outstanding throughout the smoking experience.  It required minimal touch-ups.  The Timeless burned at an ideal rate and ideal temperature.  The draw was outstanding as well - making the the Nat Sherman Timeless Collection a joy to smoke.


Strength and Body

The Timeless Collection is not going to overwhelm you in terms of power.  It is a cigar that falls squarely in the medium range of the strength spectrum.  The flavors are also classic medium-bodied.   The depth of the flavors easily build a very smooth cigar experience.  There was a nice equilibrium between the strength and body - resulting in these attributes balancing each other perfectly.  The Timeless Collection is a textbook case for what a medium strength, medium-bodied cigar should be.

Final Thoughts

The future of the Nat Sherman line is very bright as the Timeless Collection project is a great start to the Herklots era. I found this a cigar that I could easily put into my regular rotation of cigars.   The nice thing about this cigar is it really is the type of smoke that you can give to any type of smoker - any time of the day.  It is the perfect type of cigar to graduate a newer cigar enthusiast into a medium strength, medium-body profile.  At the same time, experienced cigar enthusiasts will appreciate the flavor, construction, and balance this cigar brings to the table.  This is a cigar I would easily reach for again - and certainly one I would reach for a box purchase.

Summary

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

Source: The pre-release sample for this assessment was gifted to me by a friend who received this from Michael Herklots.  Cigar Coop is  appreciative for the sample, but in no way does this influence this review.

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown #5 Avo Limited Edition 2011 85th Anniversary (Avo LE11) (Part 26 of Epic Encounters)

The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown has now reached the Fab Five.   Today's Epic Encounter comes from one of the brand of one of the legendary figures in the cigar business - Avo Uvezian.   It is the follow-up to what was my 2010 Cigar of the Year.

Coming in at #5 is the Avo Limited Edition 2011 85th Anniversary (Avo LE11). Combined this with the two Room 101 Cigars that made that top ten and this gives the Davidoff family three cigars in the top ten.   Last year, the Avo Limited edition 2010 was my Cigar of the Year.  It was a departure from most cigars in the Avo line as that represented a full strength/full-bodied smoking experience.  For the Avo LE11, this goes back to Avo basics - offering a medium strength cigar while balancing it with medium to full-bodied flavors.  Each March, the Avo Limited Edition series comes out around Uvezian's birthday.  Because this was Uvezian's 85th birthday, this cigar uses the name 85th.

It isn't fair to compare the Avo LE10 and Avo LE11 as these are two completely different blends and vitolas.  The end result is a very different flavor profile in the Avo LE11 from the Avo LE10.   The flavor profile consists of Berry, Cinnamon, Wood, Nut, Char, baker's spice, and pepper.  The burn and draw live up to the high standards that make up the Avo line -as both characteristics were consistently excellent.

Click here for the full assessment done on this cigar.

Blend Profile
 
Wrapper: Dominican
Binder: Pelo de Oro (Peru)
Filler: San Vicente Visus, San Vicente Ligero, Piloto Ligero, Piloto Seco

Vitolas Available

.For the Avo Limited Edition 2011 85th Anniversary, there is a single vitola offering (this is on par for the Avo Limited Edition series).  For the Avo LE11 edition, they opt for a "Diadema" shape.  This is a 6.75 x 50 vitola - basically a perfecto (almost like a thinner salomon).  This seems a little shorter than what a Diameda is.

Recommended Vitola: Diadema (default)

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown #6 Casa Miranda Chapter One by Miami Cigars (Part 25 of Epic Encounters)

#6 Casa Miranda Chapter One by Miami Cigars
The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown is now in the home stretch.  It is now time for the Super Six.  Today's epic encounter comes from Miami Cigars - who places their second cigar on the Top 30 countdown.   This is a cigar that was made at the world renowned Miami, Florida's El Titan de Bronze factory under the watch of superstar blender Willy Herrera (before he joined Drew Estate).

Coming in at #6 is the Casa Miranda Chapter One.  The Casa Miranda is nothing short of a home run.  The plan is for the cigar to be produced in limited, small-batches.

The Casa Miranda is your classic medium-strength, medium to full-bodied cigar.  It provides a wonderful flavor profile of consisting of berry, caramel, citrus, pepper, and cedar spice notes.  The construction was outstanding throughout the smoking experience providing a flawless draw and a razor-sharp burn every time. It's the type of cigar that I would recommend to either novice or experienced cigar enthusiasts.  This is also the kind of cigar that can really be smoked any time of the day or even saved for a special occasion.

Click here for the full assessment done on this cigar.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

At the time of this writing, the Casa Miranda is available in three vitolas:

Robusto: 5 x 50
Toro: 6 x 52
Torpedo 6 x 52

Recommended Vitola: Robusto

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown #7 Room 101 Namakubi (Part 24 of Epic Encounters)

#7 Room 101 Namakubi
The 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown has reached the Select Seven.  The best of the best are rising to the top of the list.  At #10, we had a breakthrough cigar from Room 101 Cigars with the Room 101 Connecticut.   Now we come to a second entry in the top ten by Matt Booth and Room 101 Cigars.

Coming in at #7 is the Room 101 Namakubi.  Without a doubt, this is the finest blend that has been released by Booth and Room 101.   This cigar provides a great 1-2 punch for Room 101 in 2011.

The Room 101 Namakubi is a medium ro full strength and full-bodied cigar.  This cigar was highlighted by lemon citrus, floral, and some very unique spice notes (that I could not come up with a metaphor for).  Add raw sugar cane for some sweetness and some good old-fashioned tobacco flavors, and the end result is one flavorful cigar in the Namakubi.  Each of the vitolas does a good job at providing a different smoking experience using the flavors I mentioned.  The cigar consistently had an excellent burn and an excellent draw.

Click here for the pre-release assessment done on this cigar. A final assessment rating was given later in the year.

Blend Profile

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
Binder: Honduran Generoso seed
Filler: Dominican and Honduran “Vuelta Abajo"

The Room 101 Namakubi uses a binder of proprietary tobacco from Honduran "Generoso" seed. The Generoso leaf is also used as the wrapper on the Camacho Super Limitado. This was named after Christian Eiroa's (Camacho Cigars) grandfather. It was Eiroa's father that worked on this tobacco through an experimental seed. The experiment was not successful from a yield standpoint, but Eiroa feels this is a tobacco that developed great flavor.

Vitolas Available

Papi Chulo: 4x42
Roxxo: 4 x 48
Tiburon: 6 x44
Sucio: 7 x 48
Monstro: 5 x 60

Recommended Vitola: Roxxo

NOTE: Epic Encounters will take a break for Christmas Day and resume the countdown on December 26th with the #6 cigar.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Opinion Page: Camacho Cigars Forced Out of Orange Bowl Sponsorship

The Orange Bowl has abandoned plans to go forward with a sponsorship deal with Camacho Cigars beginning this year.  Apparently this was as a result of pressure from U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (IL), Frank Lautenberg (NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (CT).  All apprently made a plea to the NCAA and the Orange Bowl stating that tobacco has no place in sports. With so much of the premium tobacco industry based in South Florida, this is a slap in the face by a huge sporting event based in the backyard of the cigar industry.

There is a note of hypocrisy in this whole equation.   Sponsors of the Orange Bowl include Bacardi, Stella Artois Beer, and Corona Beer.  Most college students are not of the age of twenty-one.   For those who are twenty-one and old enough to purchase alcohol, they run they risk of possibly overdrinking - and if they get behind the wheel of a car, they run the risk to others.   Nobody seems to look the other way when it comes to alcoholic beverage companies, but yet premium tobacco is considered bad. This is not an indictment on alcoholic beverages involved in sports sponsorship. Alcohol and tobacco are both legal products that should be used in moderation. In a free market economy, companies of both alcohol and tobacco should be allowed to advertise. The precedent set by the Orange Bowl amplifies a trend that premium tobacco will be able to effectively market their product.

With Durbin, Lautenberg, and Blumenthal also pleading with the FDA to ban flavored tobacco, cigar enthusiasts have three powerful people in Washington bent on destroying the cigar industry. I encourage all cigar enthusiasts to express their displeasure about this decision by the Orange Bowl and the actions of the Senators above. I personally will not be watching or supporting the Orange Bowl.

Cigar Pre-Review: E.P. Carrillo Elencos Maduro

E.P. Elencos Maduro
Last year, E.P. Carrillo released a limited run cigar called the E.P. Carrillo Edición Limitada 2010.   This cigar was actually ranked #8 on Cigar Aficionado's Top 10 list for 2010.   This cigar quickly became a favorite among cigar enthusiasts.   Therefore, it was great news when E.P. Carrillo announced they were moving this cigar as a part of their core line.   The cigar was rebranded the E.P. Carrillo Elencos and some additional vitolas were added to the series.  Following that release E.P. Carrillo went to work on a variation of the blend, this time utilizing an Maduro version of the Brazilian wrapper.  This new blend is dubbed the E.P. Carrillo Elencos Maduro.  I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release sample of this new blend.  After smoking this pre-release sample, I'm comfortable saying that this is the best blend released by E.P. Carrillo to date.

The amazing thing about this cigar is that it tasted completely different than the original E.P. Carrillo Elencos.  Since this was a pre-release sample,  I've opted to classify this as one of my "Pre-Reviews", but based on this sample alone, it's not too soon to already state that this cigar has potential to be on my 2012 Cigar of the Year countdown.

Blend Profile

For this assessment, I did not have another E.P. Elencos handy to compare the wrappers of the Elencos and the Elencos Maduro.  It is a little difficult to tell the difference, but if you put the two cigars together, you can see the Elencos Maduro is darker.

Wrapper: Brazilian Maduro
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

According to The Cigar Feed, E.P. Carrillo will launch the Elites vitola first - followed by the other vitolas.  These vitolas mirror the shape (and share the same name) as the core Elencos line.  I also love the fact that E.P. Carrillo gives each of the vitolas an identity as opposed to the generic names.

Acto Mayor (Torpedo): 6 1/4 x 52
Don Rubino (Robusto): 5 1/4 x 50
Elites (Toro): 6 x 54 (This was the Original Edición Limitada 2010 size)

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

One thing I did notice with this cigar is that the tobacco appeared to be loosely packed toward the cap.  Since this was a pre-release sample - and because this is a human element, I don't expect this to be a regular production problem.  At the same time, this is worth mentioning because it did play a role in the smoking experience.

The pre-release sample I received was the Elites.  I carefully placed a straight cut into the cap. Despite some of the loose packing at the cap, the cut was flawless.  When I commenced with the pre-light draw, I had to draw a little carefully as I didn't want to soften things up by the cap.  I was amazed at the dry draw notes as it was like nothing I had gotten from an maduro before.  The pre-light draw notes gave me notes of leather and butter.  There also was a tiny bit of spice.  I definitely considered this unique for an maduro cigar, so I wasted no time in firing up my Elencos Maduro and prepared to enjoy the cigar experience.

Flavor Profile

The initial flavors of the Elencos Maduro immediately gravitated back more toward a classic Maduro smoke.  There were notes of coffee and cream.  I also picked up a little cedar spice on the after-draw.  The theme of spice on the after-draw was present throughout the whole smoking experience.

As the smoking experience progressed through the first third, the coffee flavors moved to the forefront and were joined by notes of chocolate and mocha.  If you like flavors along the coffee/chocolate/mocha profile, this cigar really is going to deliver these notes well for you.  Toward the end of the first third, there were some nice cinnamon flavors that layered over the other flavors.  These deep cinnamon flavors didn't last long, but they were robust when they appeared.  

The flavor profile held through the second third, and in the last third, the coffee/chocolate/mocha notes subsided somewhat.   They were replaced by a wonderful cherry sweetness.  I still detected some of the cinnamon notes, but they were not as bold as they were in the early part of the smoke.  As I said earlied, the cedar spice on the after-draw remained from start to finish.  The Elencos Maduro isn't going to deliver a lot in spice, but it more than makes up for it with its other flavors.

The finish was extremely smooth.   Because of the soft cap, the nub was very soft, but surprisingly, it did not hot at the end.

Burn and Draw

The burn was flawless throughout the smoking experience of the Elencos Maduro.  This cigar required very little in the way of touch-ups and burned straight throughout the smoking experience.  The ash was a wonderful tight white ash throughout the smoking experience.   The burn temperture and burn rate were ideal.
Burn of the E.P. Elencos Maduro
The draw was impacted by the loose packing at the cap.  Like on the dry draw, I was carefully not to draw hard so I did not make the cap soft.  I believe I was successful at this.  It wasn't an ideal draw, but I'm confident with some tighter packing this would be a solid draw.  Because this was a pre-release sample, I gave it an incomplete in this category.

Strength and Body

I was a little surprised when it came to strength.  I had the original E.P. Carrillo Elencos as a medium to full strength cigar.  While I still assess the Elencos Maduro in the medium to full area of the spectrum, I still felt the strength was dialed back a bit.  As for the flavor notes, they were deep and robust - no doubt this qualifies as a classic full-bodied smoke.  The strength and body balance each other very nicely - making for an ideal smoking experience.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I felt the issue with the loose packing was more of an inconvienence, but the E.P. Carrillo Elencos Maduro delivered one of the best smoking experience.   I have had a lot of excellent E.P. Carrillo cigars before, but as I said up-front - this was the best E.P. Carrillo I have smoked to date.   It smoked very different from the core line Elencos.  This cigar had great flavor and great complexity (much more complexity than the core line Elencos) . It is definitely is the type of cigar I would recommend to an experienced cigar enthusiast.  For a novice enthusiast who might want a medium to full strength/full-bodied cigar - this would be the perfect cigar.   As for myself, the Elencos Maduro is definitely a box worthy purchase and most importantly - a cigar that should be listed on my 2012 Cigar of the Year countdown.

Summary

Burn: Excellent
Draw: Incomplete
Complexity: High
Strength: Medium to Full
Body: Full

Source:  This cigar was provided to myself from E.P. Carrillo.  The request was initiated by E.P. Carrillo to myself (Cigar Coop) to provide an assessment.  Cigar Coop is appreciative to samples provided but this plays no role in a final assessment.

2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown: #8 E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro (Part 23 of Epic Encounters)

#8 E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro
We have now entered the Elite Eight for the 2011 Cigar of the Year Countdown.   For this Epic Encounter, we have a second entry by E.P. Carrillo Cigars.  E.P. Carrillo has had a busy year launching five new cigar lines.   This cigar was one of the year's highlights.

Coming in at #8 is the E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro.  Last year, E.P. Carrillo launched their Core Line natural blend.   The Core Line Maduro is not the Core Line natural with a maduro wrapper, this is a different blend.  It is intended to be a regular production release by E.P. Carrillo.

Overall, the E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro goes back to basics providing some classic flavors in a maduro.  It provides a highly complex flavor profile with primary flavors of espresso, chocolate, cocoa, dried fruit, and baker's spice.  There are also some nice secondary notes of toast, cinnamon, and molasses.   The cigar starts out medium to full in strength and eventually closes out full-stength.  The flavor notes are deep and easy qualify as full-bodied.   The cigar consistently has a good draw.  While some of the earlier samples did not have a stellar burn, this cigar has benefitted from some age and now has greatly improved in that area.

Click here for the pre-release assessment done on this cigar. A final assessment rating was given later in the year.

Blend Profile

As for the binder and filler, this is not the current E.P. Carrillo Core Line (natural) with a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper on it. This cigar also uses a different binder - namely Ecuadorian Sumatra (as opposed to double Nicaraguan on the Core Line Natural)

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Filler: Nicaraguan/Dominican

Vitolas Available

E.P. Carrillo created a lot of variety in their core line offerings in terms of vitolas sizes.  There are 8 sizes of the E.P. Carrillo Core Line Maduro.. All of the Core Line Maduro offerings mirror the Core Line Natural offerings. The names of the vitolas for the maduro offerings are the same as for the natural offerings.

Churchill Especial: 7 1/8” x 49
Club 52 52: 5 7/8” x 52
Encantos: 4 7/8” x 50
Golosos: 6.25" x 60
Predilectos: 6 1/8 x 52 (Torpedo)
Regalias: 5 5/8 x 46
No.4 Corona: 5 1/8 x 42
Monumentos: 7 3/8 x 56
Real Corona: 5 5/8 x 46

Recommended Vitola: Club 52

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cigar Review: Liga Privada Unico Serie Feral Flying Pig

Liga Privada Unico Serie Feral Flying Pig
For the past three years, Drew Estate has released a special vitola in its popular Liga Privada series that has been called the "Flying Pig".  The first was the Liga Privada No. 9 Flying Pig, and that was followed up last year by the Liga Privada T52 Flying Pig.  Both were variations of the No. 9 and T52 blends respectively and came in 4 1/4 x 60 sized perfecto vitolas.  This year, Drew Estate has released a third Flying Pig, but has done things differently.  They have opted to go with a new blend and include it in their Unico Serie line.  This one is called the Liga Privada Unico Serie Feral Flying Pig.  The vitola is different from the original Flying Pigs.  Overall this cigar is an outstanding edition to the Liga Privada brand - and proves to be one powerful smoke.

First up, a little background on the Liga Privada Unico Serie. The Unico Serie concept was introduced with the Liga Privada Unico Serie Dirty Rat. When that blend was released, Drew Estate President Steve Saka explained the Unico Serie as follows: “At this point, we have made 200 or more Liga Privada blends. There are probably 9 or 10 of them so far that are exceptional, however their blends differ from both the No. 9 and the T52 branded cigars. They’re cigars that work as a particular size, such as a lancero or corona, with the blend being unique to that particular vitola."  Unico Serie blends have been introduced with the Liga Privada Dirty Rat, Liga Privada L40 Lancero, and the Liga Privada A - and thes have proved to be popular with cigar enthusiasts.

The word is that there will be somewhat increased production of the Feral Flying Pig - and they will be released in small batches to authorized Liga Privada retailers on a periodic basis.  Word is they are considering making this an ongoing release - also on a periodic basis.

Let's break down the Liga Privada Unico Serie Feral Flying Pig and see what this cigar delivers:

Blend Profile

The Feral Flying Pig features a similar wrapper that was used on the Liga Privada No 9.

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
Binder: Brazilian Mata Fina
Filler: Nicaraguan

Vitolas Available

As with all Liga Privada Unico Serie cigars, there is only only vitola.  In this case, the Feral Flying Pig it is a 5 3/8 x 60 perfecto.  This is a longer vitola than the No. 9 and T52 Flying Pigs.  The cigar features the trademark pig-tail cap that is present on all Flying Pigs.

Preparation for the Cigar Experience

As I do with all pig-tail capped cigars, I opted for a straight cut into the cap of the Feral Flying Pig.  I immediately commenced with a pre-light draw.   The dry draw notes were simply outstanding.  I was treated to notes of coffee, wood, and some background spice.  These notes were bold and very satisfying.   I spent a few minutes savoring the pre-light draw notes, and then it was time to fire up my Feral Flying Pig and see what would come to the table.

Flavor Profile

The initial notes of the Feral Flying Pig treated me to a mix of espresso, chocolate, and black pepper.  All three of these flavors blended together for a very good taste.  The flavors were bold right up front.  As the smoking experience settled, there was a smoothness to this cigar right off the bat. 

As the cigar progressed through the first, I noticed some hints of chicory emerge in the background.  The first half featured a lot of alternating between the black pepper and chocolate sweetness.  At the same time, the espresso notes still remained very much present.

In the second half, I noticed the espresso notes diminish.  At the same time, the chocolate notes morphed into more of a honey flavored sweetness.  As the Flying Feral Pig moved into the last third of the smoke, the black pepper notes broke out.   The Feral Flying Pig had a very spicy finish, but it was not harsh by any means.  The resulting nub was soft, but it did not burn hot.

Burn and Draw

I never seem to have good luck with anything that is a perfecto shape in terms of the way it burns.  At a Pete Johnson Tatuaje event, I discussed with Johnson my frustration with perfectos and he advised me to clip both ends of the perfecto.  I did not do this with the Feral Flying Pig - and for the most part, except for one point where I got a little bit of tunneling, the burn was very good.   It is a good testament to how a perfecto and big ring gauge cigar should be made.  It did require some touch-ups, but nothing terribly major.  The ash was a nice white ash - although at times it did flower a bit.  

Burn of the Liga Privada Unico Serie Feral Flying Pig
The draw was simply outstanding on the Feral Flying Pig.   This made for a very enjoyable smoking experience

Strength and Body

In terms of this smoking experience, the strength is the story of this smoking experience.  This is one powerhouse smoke.  It is definitely the strongest cigar I've smoked in quite some time.  You feel the strength about 25 percent into the smoking experience - and it doesn't let up.  This one really kicked me hard.  The amazing thing is that the strength of this cigar does not overshadow the flavors that this cigar delivers.  This cigar has some of the boldest flavors I've seen in sometime.  As a result, the flavor is not sacrifced by the strength - and this was a textbook case for how a strong cigar should be blended.

Final Thoughts

Drew Estate co-founder Jonathan Drew has been on the record stating he feels this is one of the best cigars that his company has delivered.  This was a very good cigar.  I still am very partial to the Liga Privada T52 being the best cigar that Drew Estate has delivered, but this one falls right in the upper echelon to Drew Estate releases.   It wasn't the most complex cigar, but it delivers a burst of power and flavor.  This is definitely not a cigar for the novice, and I would only recommend this to an experienced cigar enthusiast who loves a full-strength cigar.   From a personal standpoint, this is a cigar I would smoke again - and easily make into a box purchase.

Summary

Burn: Good+
Draw: Excellent
Complexity: Low
Strength: Full
Body: Full
Assessment: Memorable

Source: The cigar for this assessment was purchased from Outland Cigars in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Due to limitations on how many cigars could be purchased at this time, this assessment was based on a single cigar smoke.