I was trolling for goodies in a local cigar shop the other day and happened to notice an unfinished crate crammed inconspicuously into the corner under some big-ticket Ashtons. The box was filled with toro sized cigars. I didn’t see a brand advertised, and they didn’t have bands. What they did have was alluringly oily wrappers, beautifully rounded heads, and triple caps finished with tight neat pig tails. And the feet were flagged. Sitting nicely in the box they looked like a bunch of shoeless orphans getting ready to go to church.
When I asked after their pedigree, the counter guy said “They’re called JFRs. Four something a stick. You can hardly buy a cigar for four bucks.” This was not exactly a glowing endorsement, but they looked sweet, and yeah, the guy is right. Four bucks is not much for a handmade cigar these days.
JFR stands for “Just For Retailers,” and they mean it. Don’t look for them online. They’re made by Tabacalera Tropical, and originally they were blended by none other than Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia. Or so the story goes.
Pedro Martin successfully escaped the Castro regime in the early 60’s and subsequently spent almost two decades in the American tobacco industry before he entered the cigar market with Tropical Tobacco in 1978. Martin has produced cigars at various times in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Central America, and has had his hand in the making of brands as diverse as Avo and Ashton (at Tabadom) and the current stable of Tropical blends like Lempira and Indianhead.
“Don Pepin” Garcia’s first employer after his exodus from Cuba in 2001 was Eduardo Fernandez’ Aganorsa in Esteli, Nicaragua — the same Aganorsa which in 2002 acquired Martin’s Tropical, which at that point became Tabacalera Tropical. It seems most likely that if Garcia blended the original JFR, it was during this time. And the fact that Fernandez is still Garcia’s primary tobacco supplier lends the JFR blend an even darker shadow of Pepin ancestry. But no birth certificate.
Tropical doesn’t acknowledge these cigars on their website, and an email for information was unsuccessful as well, so I remain unsure of the JFR’s constitution and provenance. The word on the street is that these are made in Honduras with a Nicaraguan corojo/criollo blend. After smoking a few of these, that sounds quite plausible. There are reportedly four sizes: robusto, toro, supertoro (corona gorda) and torpedo.
The wrappers on these cigars are really attractive — a nice sheen of oil enhances a slightly toothy surface throughout. The few I’ve smoked so far have been competently constructed, though one had a significant soft spot and uneven roll. Despite this it drew well and burned without a hitch.
The JFR introduces itself with a spicy but smooth flavor; it’s not as peppery as a Pepin, but it has that Nicaraguan bite. The base flavor is leathery with spicy accents. Over the course of the cigar this flavor creeps along and builds while the smoke texture gathers weight and grows from medium to full in body. The aroma of this cigar is somewhat sweet and combines really well with the leathery foundation.
About halfway through this smoke I sensed the strength beginning to sneak up on me and I noticed a little harshness on the throat. The spices get darker at this point, more peppery, more Pepiney. There are some coffee flavors at this point, and maybe a little hazelnut on the nose. By the last third the smoke is very rich, quite strong and the harshness begins to mount. I normally put the butt to bed at this point.
More than a Pepin blend, this one reminds me of Illusione. Either that or a St. Luis Rey Regios. It’s not as complex or as refined as the Illusione (I’m thinking of the 888) and it’s bolder than the Regios, but there seem to me some similarities. If you told me these were Illusione “rejects” I might just believe you.
Rejects or not, they’re decent smokes for $4 or less. The counter guy undersold these, but they appear to sell themselves just fine.