Blue Label Robusto


I was a little wary at first of a cigar called “Blue Label.”  Not Gran Habano Blue Label, or STC Blue Label…just Blue Label. This generic sounding name has been used before — in fact, one large online retailer sells both this Blue Label and their own house brand Blue Label, not to mention the Legends Series Blue Label, and the Don Pepin Garcia cigar popularly known as the “Blue Label.”  Aside from the confusion this might engender, it just seems like bad advertising — it doesn’t distinguish the product, and it doesn’t entice the consumer. What would you prefer — a luscious looking double-banded Alec Bradley Tempus, or a homely Blue Label?

Some History

Curiously, the Blue Label has a history in cigar lore, which may or may not have anything to do with the naming of this particular cigar. The original Blue Label wasn’t a blend or a brand; it was the mark of labor union approval.


The Cigar Maker’s International Union was formed in 1864 in New York City. A fourteen year old cigar maker named Samuel Gompers joined the Cigar Maker’s Union that same year and within ten years became the president of Local 144. In 1881 he helped form the American Federation of Labor (AFL.)  Gompers was eventually elected president of the AFL and is recognized today as a key figure in American labor history.

The Cigar Makers’ Union was one of the first to use labels to distinguish its products — this allowed union members and supporters to buy “union made” whenever possible, and to boycott non-union products. Label committees were formed to determine the conditions under which companies would be allowed use of the label, label custodians and secretaries within the organizations were appointed to administer the union policies, and label “agitators” promoted the use of the label and agitated against non-union made products.

In the official publication of the Cigars Makers’ International Union, members were encouraged to enter poems and songs rejoicing in the glory of union-made cigars:

The Blue Label

Now, friends, if you will listen to what I’ve got to say,
I promise not to keep you long, or ask you any pay,
I want to ask a favor, you’ll agree it is no joke;
please ask for “union” made cigars whene’er you want a smoke

They’re made by good mechanics, they’re made for all mankind;
And if you roam the wide world o’er, no better will you find,
So, boys, be up and doing, be as sly as an old fox,
And see that the “Blue Label” is pasted on each box.

— Fred M. Williams of Union 427, Rahway N.J.

union-adWithin other cigar unions the label had more insidious uses: when Chinese immigrants flooded the country in the late 1860’s, many of them found employment in cigar factories. Displaced or disgruntled white workers formed the Cigar Makers’ Association of the Pacific which subsequently issued cigar box labels reading, “The cigars contained in this box are made by WHITE MEN.”

For good or ill, the label was a big deal. The Cigar Makers’ International Union developed several different labels over the years, finally settling on a standardized blue label in 1880. Details of the labels continued to change, frequently enough that these changes are often used today by collectors to date cigar boxes.

So what does that have to do with the Blue Label Robusto? Maybe nothing. But the Blue Label itself is nothing new to the cigar world.

The Cigar

The Blue Label robustos I’ve been smoking lately (while reading hundred-year old cigar trade papers) are made by Guillermo and George Rico of Gran Habano fame. They are produced in the STC factory in Danli, Honduras, and are available in the four standard sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Corona –   6 x 44
  • Torpedo – 6.5 52
  • Robusto – 5 x 52

Only partial information is available about the blend:

  • Wrapper: Habano (country of origin unstated)
  • Binder: Corojo (country of origin unstated)
  • Filler: Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican


Construction Notes

The robustos are finely crafted cigars — the wrappers are a semi-glossy colorado claro, consistent in color and smooth in texture. The heads are soundly triple capped and are very attractive. They are rolled rock solid and feel heavy in the hand. All samples drew very well with either a punch or a guillotine cut.

The burn was a little lopsided at times, but always self-correcting. The yellowish-gray ash was a little crumbly, but held on long enough not to create a mess in my lap.

Tasting Notes

The Blue Label starts off with an intensely earthy flavor, very similar to the Gran Habano No. 5 Corojo. A mouthful of dirt is admittedly an acquired taste, but I’m afraid I have acquired it. This flavor does slowly dissipate, turning to oaky wood and vanilla in the middle section, and finally gets a little nutty toward the end. On the other hand, if earthy is not your thing you probably won’t get past the first inch.

The spicy cedary aroma is a really nice touch — ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg, that sort of thing. It’s light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the medium-strength flavors on the palate, but it’s assertive enough to make a noticeable and pleasant contribution.

The finale is mildly peppery and more powerful than expected.  It’s certainly not a heavy hitting smoke, but they may sneak up on you if you’re smoking quickly and not paying attention.

Retail price for a box of Blue Label robustos is around 60 USD (even less at auction) making this a great blue collar cigar… assuming you can make it past that peaty first inch.

Final Score: 88



Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919 by Patricia A. Cooper, 1987

Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History, edited by Eric Arnesen, 2006

Cigar Makers’ Official Journal, Feb 15, 1903, Chicago.


Troya X-Tra Cetro


When Britain’s Imperial Tobacco swallowed up California’s tiny Lignum-2 last summer for a paltry $22 million they were primarily interested in Lignum’s budget cigarette line called “Rave.” I’d never heard of Rave, nor have I any interest whatsoever in cheap cigarettes, but I was momentarily alarmed by the news because Lignum-2 owns one of my favorite premium cigars: Troya Clasico.

Imperial’s acquisition means that Altadis USA will take over distribution. When I saw an Altadis sales rep in the B&M the other day I had to ask him about the fate of Troya Clasico. He said “I think that’s the one they’re keeping,” and that the other lines would most likely be re-blended, or dropped and replaced with other lines.

Which makes sense — if they are going to keep any of the lines it has to be the one Don Pepin Garcia makes. It’s the only DPG blend Altadis owns. Even if it isn’t their best seller, it might be their best cigar.

So it was no surprise when I began to see Troya X-tra Cetros for under 2 dollars a stick in clearance sales and on the auction sites.  A premium cigar for under two bucks? Hell, I’ll try it, even if the line is on the endangered species list.

The traditional Troya is a mild-mannered Dominican blend that was unveiled way back in 1985. The X-Tra was released in 2004 in response to the demand for fuller bodied cigars — it’s a Nicaraguan puro featuring a Corojo 99 wrapper and binder surrounding a criollo filler in the core.  Sound familiar? According to the manufacturer, Pepin had a hand in the early development of the X-Tra, though he was not the sole blender.

The X-Tra line is available (for now) in five sizes which are numbered, as all Troya cigars are, in rather mysterious fashion:

  • No. 18 – Robusto
  • No. 54 – Toro
  • No. 63 – Churchill
  • No. 81 – Torpedo
  • No. 45 – Cetro

The first four are standard size vitolas, but the Cetro is a little unusual. At 6.2 x 45 it’s basically a gran corona.

The wrapper is a rich dark colorado maduro with a few veins and a grainy texture. It’s not the prettiest wrapper around, and the cap is nothing to look at either — just a single flap slapped on tight. But the roll is solid and the cap shears off nicely. The prelight scent is horsey.


I’ve tried these in batches of five from three different boxes and have found the draw to be a little inconsistent. Some of them had a perfect draw, some were a little tight. The tight ones were still smokeable, if a little annoying.

First light impressions were that this is a nice medium-bodied Nicaraguan style cigar — lots of corojo sweetness over a base of leather. The coffee and caramel notes that are typical of Nicaraguan corojo are the primary players here.

Aside from the minor draw issues that some of these exhibited, construction values are good: most of them burned plumb-line straight, and the resulting ash is strong and tight.

The mid section seems to me a little juicier than the first, almost fruity at times. As it winds down to the close there isn’t too much of a transition and the cigar doesn’t get much more complex: just continued caramel-tinged coffee that combines with the leathery aroma to create a satisfyingly simple package. It’s somewhat similar to an aged Famous Nicaraguan Corojo.

If there’s anything “extra” as this cigar burns past the secondary band it’s a slight burn at the back of the throat — this is typical of  mid-range Nicaraguan cigars, and is quickly cured with a swig of iced tea or cold beer. That’s really the only fault I could find with this cigar.

The Troya X-Tra is a pretty decent smoke at its regular price, but at closeout prices around 50 USD for bundles of 24 it’s fantastic. If you’re looking for a deal on medium-bodied Nicaraguan corojos, this is a nice pickup. Better be quick about it though.


Final Score: 88


La Herencia Cubana Robusto

Made in the Tabacalera Fernandez factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, La Herencia Cubana is a great example of how a Nicaraguan cigar in the style of Padron and Pepin does not have to cost over five dollars a stick.

AJ Fernandez is the man behind brands like Padilla Habano, Man O’ War, and Rocky Patel’s ITC 10th Anniversary cigar. AJ is a relatively young guy, but already we are seeing signs that he has a very bright future in the industry. Recently arrived from Cuba after receiving an education in the business from the legendary Alejandro Robaina, he is currently growing his own tobacco in Condega and Jalapa for filler and binder in his new blends.  He has yet to grow his own wrapper leaf, but his close relationships with Nestor Plasencia (his uncle) and the Oliva Tobacco Company have given Fernandez all the resources he needs to create the next stellar Nicaraguan cigar.

La Herencia Cubana (Cuban Heritage) features filler tobaccos from Nicaragua’s three main growing regions: Condega, Jalapa, and Esteli. The wrapper is a dark Ecuadorian Sumatra that shows a fair amount of tooth for this type of wrapper, and seems to have small chips in it like some maduro leaves do. The roll is excellent: solid and consistent, and the cap is uniform and well made.

My first impression upon lighting this cigar is that it could have been made at another, more familiar, Esteli factory: Tabacalera Cubana. The initial blast of pepper lasts for half an inch or so and then settles down to a still aggressive foundation of wood and earth. There is a bright, almost acidic edge to this smoke that stings a bit on retrohaling. The aroma is sweet and earthy, reminding me a little bit of United Tobacco’s Cubao.

An inch or two into this robusto and a couple more familiar Nicaraguan suspects are at the door: cocoa and his cousin coffee. They blend very well with the sweet earthy aroma from the wrapper. The burn is excellent, requires no babysitting, and the ash holds reasonably well. My only complaint at this time is an unpleasant bite in the back of the throat. It’s not so excessive that it overtakes the character of the cigar, but it does prove a distraction.

The last third delivers a pretty good nicotine hit and the finish grows long and increasingly earthy. The sweetness from the wrapper keeps up with the strength of the blend, a mark of superior blending. After the band the flavor gets a little too dirty for my taste, but lovers of strong Nicaraguan tobacco may just want to nub this one.

My first impression when I lit up the Herencia Cubana robusto was that it was “Pepinesque,” and I think I’m going to stick with that description. It’s not as complex or rich as the average Pepin cigar, but there are definitely similarities. The sweet cocoa reminds in particular of EO’s Cubao, but again, without the same depth of flavor.

On the other hand, the price is a little less than what you’d pay for a Cubao or most of the cigars coming from Don Pepin — around 3 bucks a stick, or less if you catch a good deal. Cigars International occasionally offers this blend in an 8-cigar “flight” which is a great way to sample the line.

If you like the peppery cigars coming out of Nicaragua right now and your taste runs to medium-full rather than straight on full-bodied smokes — and your budget is a little cramped — you would do well to check out Herencia Cubana.

Alec Bradley Harvest Selection ’97

A few months ago I finally polished off a box of Alec Bradley Trilogy Cameroons. That box lasted over a year, and while it wasn’t quite up there with Torano’s 1916 cameroon, it was still a good smoke for a reasonable price. I have yet to smoke an Alec Bradley cigar I didn’t like (though I don’t care much for the proportions of the stump sized Maxx.)

Lately AB’s new Tempus brand is hogging the spotlight, and rightly so since the reviews that I’ve seen are almost uniformly favorable. But at nearly the same time that Tempus debuted, Cigars International unleashed an AB exclusive called Harvest Selection ‘97. I haven’t had a chance to smoke the Tempus, but when I saw CI running a Harvest Selection special for two bucks a stick, I jumped on them.

Since these appear to be made exclusively for CI, there isn’t much information about them aside from what CI generously extends to us: a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper (from 1997), plus filler leaf from the DR (1997 piloto cubano), Mexico (1997 ligero), and Nicaragua (criollo, class of 1998.) The description doesn’t specify a binder type, but it does supply lavish praise for the ample oils and medium bodied bouquet, etc. etc.

Which at least simplifies the research part of this review, so thank you CI.

The band on this cigar is just as large and ornate as the one on the Tempus. I’m hard pressed to think of another three-dollar cigar with a band this attractive — all that embossed red, yellow and gold detail is pretty impressive.

Setting off the brilliancy of the band is a golden colorado wrapper that appears almost semi-glossy. There are a few fine veins, but again, for a three-dollar smoke this one’s a looker. The roll is solid and the cap is firmly fixed. No triple wrap, but decent enough.

The draw is initially very good and it stays that way. The first flavors are earthy with a mildly peppery finish. It starts off fairly mild and slowly amps up to about a medium in body. The aroma is excellent, adding a sweet and fragrant element to the earth on the palate. The earthiness here reminds me of a milder version of the Gran Habano No. 5, with maybe a little more pepper (but less strength) than what the Gran Habano provides.

There aren’t any profound transitions in the second half, just a little more peppery intensity with maybe a touch of leather thrown in for good measure. Ironmeden from the Velvet Cigar thought this cigar bottomed out half-way through, but I didn’t find that the flavor vanished as much as it just coasted on. The last third seemed to get fairly dry, so having a neutral-flavored beverage on hand would be a good idea. (I was swilling some cheap light-bodied beer from El Salvador called Taurino.) The aroma from the Harvest Selection remains sweet to the end, but by the final stage the fragrance notes seem woodier and not as earthy as they were at the starting line.

I have noticed no construction issues with these cigars — so far all of them have burned evenly (with a little waver here and there) and have drawn very well.

The Alec Bradly Harvest Selection is not going to blow anyone’s socks off, but it’s a fantastic value. I managed to snag these for well under three dollars shipped, and I’m completely satisfied with them as an everyday casual walk-the-dog kind of cigar.

Nestor Reserve Maduro


“Learn thou the worth of a dollar and how to keep it from damning thee.” –Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr.

The other day I received in the mail sad tidings from the gentleman who claims to manage my meager stock portfolio. Like most people struggling to save for retirement (a very distant shore) I try to take the long view. But as I watch my modest investments dwindle further into the mire, my thoughts turn from luxury limited edition cigars to the humble bundle smoke, a suitable companion for a season of economic decline.

Unlike the federal government, I am not entirely comfortable with a budget extending far beyond my means, and since I am as yet unable to print money myself, I must instead seek solace in cheap Honduran stogies. Luckily there are a few out there, and there is a man named Nestor Plasencia.

Nestor over the years has produced a number of quality budget smokes — Maria Mancini, Mayorga, American Stogies, among others, and while none of these are exactly stellar cigars, they’re solid blue collar fare. And as I watch the foreign tourists pour in to feast on the weak dollar, I’m feeling bluer all the time.

So I thought I was exercising fiscal responsibility when I low-balled a “Mega Sampler” of these Nestor Reserves on Cigarbid. I’d tried the toro size previously and thought well of it, so when I came away a winner with a bid of 19 dollars I thought I hit the big time. 20 cigars for 19 dollars. Can’t beat it, right?

In the past I’ve really enjoyed the Connecticut version of this cigar — a mild and smooth smoking robusto that is unfortunately no longer available. The Maduro version is still kicking though, and comes in the standard sizes: corona, double corona, robusto, toro, and torpedo. The wrapper is Honduran, while the filler is a Honduran/Nicaraguan blend. The really interesting ingredient here is a Cameroon binder.

Curiously, the first thing I noticed upon slicing open my “Mega Sampler” bundle was that one of the double coronas was round, and the rest of them were square pressed. In fact, all the cigars were square pressed except for that one odd double corona. I figured that must be The One, the Neon of the cigar matrix. So I cut it, torched the end and prepared myself for a leisurely smoke.

Double Corona

But it was not to be. It wasn’t plugged, exactly, but it was extremely tight. I cut a bit more off the head to no avail. Diagnostically palpating the cigar to find a plug, I found that the plug seemed to start at the head and end somewhere close to the foot. Exploratory surgery was my only option. I cut it in half and gave the remainder a hearty pull. Nothing. Flat line. Most definitely not The One.

On to the next contestant, a square pressed double corona. No draw problems this time, but even before lighting it I was greeted with a bitter and unpleasant taste from the wrapper leaf. For the next ten minutes I couldn’t stop spitting and the taste seemed to worsen. The smoke wasn’t bad — woody, with some earthiness and a semi-sweet maduro aroma, but the flavor from the wrapper on my tongue was unbearable. And so round two sent me staggering to the corner with two unsmokeable cigars lying pathetically in the ashtray.

But I couldn’t give up now. After all, Cigars International calls this cigar “chocolate thunder.” Cigar Insider gave it an astounding 93! My double corona experience must have been a fluke. On to the robusto size.


The prelight impression this cigar makes is a good indication of how it smokes: mild and grassy. What lies hidden — until flame is set to leaf — is how smelly it is.

The first third is mild, smooth and focuses on sweet hay. After an inch a vegetal flavor makes an entrance, and the finish is mildly metallic. The Cameroon adds an earthy accent in the second third, blending nicely with the sweet aroma of the maduro. The robusto becomes increasingly earthy into the final stretch, a little flinty but still quite mild.

This cigar most emphatically failed the wife test. She coughed and waved her arms and put on quite a show for me and the dogs. But she’s right — this is a very smelly cigar, but in a sweetish maduro kind of way.


The toro is not quite as grassy, and not quite as mild as the robusto. It’s a little woodier, but it retains that flinty, metallic aftertaste. The maduro-cameroon tango is a little more animated in this size: it’s sweet and smooth, but tangier than the robusto. It tastes more like the double corona, but lacks the construction problems I had with those.


The torpedo smokes very much like the toro. It might be a tad smoother, but it seems so similar to me that any difference could easily be chalked up to what I was drinking or what I had for dinner on a given night.


What all the Nestor Reserve Maduro cigars have in common is this: they’re all relatively mild, smooth smoking cigars with a stinky disposition. They tend to burn erratically, but with one exception they all drew well and had decent construction. One annoying thing about them is that the wrapper bleeds and leaves brown stains on one’s lips and fingers. Along with the consistently oscuro coloration of the wrapper, this is a good indication that the leaf has been “cooked,” or artificially treated (perhaps even dyed) to speed up the fermentation process and achieve a uniform hue. I can’t say with total certainty that is what we have here, but it certainly seems like a possibility.

So, in the final analysis, are the Nestor Reserves worth two bucks a pop? It’s not easy to find a decent cigar for under two dollars, but with some effort it is possible. I don’t think this is Nestor’s best effort, and while there are some admirable qualities here (the cameroon binder is an intriguing touch) I think there are probably better bargains out there. It’s a passable yard gar, but even at less than a dollar a stick at auction I will probably seek out other pastures. I’m trying to be frugal, not masochistic.


JFR – “Just For Retailers” Corona Gorda


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.


Bock y Ca Edicion de Oro Robusto


Gustav Bock is best known as the first cigar maker to put bands on his Havanas, starting sometime around 1854. At that time most cigars were sold from large bags of loose sticks and couldn’t be identified once separated from the mothership. One story says that Bock invented the cigar band to keep inferior cigars from being sold as his own. Another, more unlikely, tale is that they were designed to prevent staining the fingers of high society ladies (or gents given to the practice of wearing white gloves.) 

But Herr Bock was a master businessman who had a gift for marketing. When he found that he could not break into the American market without brand recognition, even when he was offering his cigars nearly at cost, he developed an ingenious plan. Legend has it that he shipped small lots of cigars to “various undiscoverable places” in the U.S. addressed to George Washington. The undervalued parcels never reached their fictitious destinations and were picked up by customs agents, sold at auction, and thereby entered the American market. The cigars were recognized for their quality, identified by their bands, and eventually gained a loyal following.  

Today we have these bits of cigar lore by which to remember Gustav Bock, but during his lifetime he became a recognized captain of industry. In the latter part of his career, around the turn of the century, Bock’s holdings were consolidated to form Henry Clay, Bock and Co, and later he gained control of the Havana Commercial Company as well. At that time he controlled almost all of the cigar production in Cuba. Later on this company would be acquired by the American Tobacco Company, and eventually all these dealings would end up at the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court as an antitrust issue. Bock was more about big business than cigar bands, but today that is what remains. That, and a brand name.

One of Bock’s better known brands was called “Aguila de Oro” or Golden Eagle, and while the Bock brand name has passed through many hands in the past century, the eagle remains. There appears to be a Dominican made version of this cigar currently available in Europe. Altadis may be marketing one version to the U.S. and a different one to the EU, as it appears to be doing with the VegaFina brand as well.

In any case, the blend on the shelves here in the U.S. is of Nicaraguan origin, with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler. The line was created (or re-introduced) by Altadis “to compliment our lines of inexpensive premium brands like Gispert and Vega Fina.”

The general appearance of the Bock robusto does nothing to betray the marketing of this cigar as an “inexpensive” brand. It’s rough and the cap is cut unevenly. It looks like it was thrown together in a rush. The prelight wrapper scent is of fresh hay and a prelight pull tastes bright and grassy. The draw is firm but serviceable.

But this cigar shouldn’t be judged by prelight appearances alone; it performs a whole lot better than it looks. It starts up with a pleasant toasty sweet tobacco flavor. Nothing unusual, just straight up smooth and creamy smoke. It’s mild to medium in body with a nice texture and very little bite. It sets up a solid white ash that compares favorably with any premium Nicaraguan cigar I’ve smoked in the past year.

This robusto builds in flavor toward the mid-point, getting a little woodier and by the last third brings a moderate dose of spice and most surprisingly, cocoa. I can’t think of another cigar in this price range that shows up with cocoa in any amount… but this one has it, at least in the mid to final stages. It’s not as thoroughgoing as the premium Pepin blends, but for a fraction of the price I have to say I’m impressed.

And the price is low. Seriously low. A box of Bock y Ca robustos runs around 30 USD. And yes, it’s a box, not a bundle. At this price you can hardly go wrong, unless you’re expecting a full bodied superpremium, which it isn’t. It’s a quality blue-collar medium bodied smoke, for a solid blue collar price. Try a couple. Your wallet will thank you and your palate won’t complain.

For other reviews of good cheap smokes, check out Walt’s Bargain Cigar Breakdown at the Stogie Review. 


Tatuaje Series P2


Tatuaje Series P cigars are economy selections from Jose Pepin Garcia’s Tabacalera Cubana in Esteli, Nicaragua. These are “cuban sandwich” cigars made with the same filler blend as Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje Havana VI, presumably with scrap tobacco from the same. These are Nicaraguan puros and are marketed as having 40% long filler and 60% medium filler. The wrapper is Nicaraguan Habano.

Construction is always an issue when it comes to sandwich or mixed filler cigars, and the Series P is not immune. Most of the cigars I’ve sampled in this series have been fine, but a few have had burn problems and a couple have split their wrappers in catastrophic fashion. From the price alone it seems a bit of a gamble — about 4 USD per stick local retail. Not your typical Pepin price mark, but it’s a reasonable wager for this cigar.

The size I chose for this review was the robusto P2. (These are also available in churchill, toro, and corona grande vitolas.) The wrapper is not a looker exactly, so you’ll want to judge this one for its personality rather than its superficial deficiency. The wrapper scent here is straight ahead cedar with a little bit of sweet grass on the prelight pull.

The P2 starts up with no nonsense medium bodied tobacco flavors and maintains that course pretty much to the end. The real attraction here is the sweet spicy aroma from the wrapper. It has a very carmelized kind of smell, almost like roasted marshmellows. After a couple inches some pepper arrives at the party, but for the most part it serves as a mild condiment over that simple sweet woody flavor. There isn’t much transition here, as Jerry noticed in his Stogie Review of this cigar. I have to agree with him that a big development isn’t really necessary here.

Like the Havana VI, this is a relatively mild blend for Tatuaje and Pepin. At times the smoke seems a little bit thin, but it’s flavorful and the wrapper imparts a delicate sweetness that is not easily found among cigars in this price range.

It’s really not fair to compare this cigar to the standard line Tats, so I won’t. Just remember that this is a bargain-oriented cigar made with the leavings from the big boys. The result is a ghostly palimpsest of the original work, but when the original is a Tatuaje, that may be just enough to seal the deal. For 4 bucks, anyway.

VegaFina Robusto


Over the years there have been several different cigars marketed under the name Vega Fina, mainly because the companies owning the brand name have merged or been acquired or simply changed hands: the brand name appears to have first been owned by Havatampa, an old manufacturer around since the early 1900’s. When Tabalera S.A. de España bought Havatampa in 1997, Vega Fina passed to them and was produced by Benji Menendez in Honduras with an Indonesian wrapper. Two years later, Tabacalera S.A. merged with the French tobacco giant SEITA to form Altadis, S.A. Soon after this, production moved to the Dominican Republic and Vega Fina was produced primarily for the Spanish and Western European market as an affordable Dominican premium (but also as a mass market machine mini cigar very popular in Spain.)

Vega Fina continues to be Spain’s most popular Dominican cigar, so Altadis decided to introduce it to the much larger American market early this year. Today they’re made in La Romana’s Tabacalera de Garcia under the supervision of José Séijas.

The VF robusto is graced by a creamy claro-colored Ecuadorian grown Connecticut Shade wrapper that looks good enough to eat. Beneath this, however, is a binder which causes me a little concern: Indonesian TBN. (I have to remind myself that the wrapper on the Dominican Romeo y Julieta 1875 is also TBN, and it’s not bad stuff.) The VF employs filler from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras.

I tend to think of Indonesian TBN as the carpetbagger of cigar tobacco — it seems to turn up only when the “real thing” is no longer available. When Consolidated couldn’t get quality Cameroon in the late 80’s, they turned to TBN. When wrapper leaf of any quality was scarce during the “boom” years, TBN was there. And this is at least partly why it has a such a sullied reputation — it’s often been the alternative, not the prime choice. And unfortunately the alternative, especially during the boom years, was actually bottom-of-barrel tobacco billed as TBN when it may have been something else entirely. So what we were taking in general as “Indonesian” was actually the worst tobacco the region had to offer.

TBN stands for tobaco bawah naungan, which means “tobacco under sheet,” or shade-grown tobacco. Top quality TBN is a cross between native besuki tobacco and Connecticut Shade. It’s a nice looking leaf, so in addition to its blending qualities it can also serve well as a wrapper. Strangely it is also prized for its lack of aroma. I can’t think why this would be appreciated in a wrapper, but used as a binder here perhaps it makes more sense.

The VegaFina robusto is a suave looking cigar. The wrapper is smooth and supple with very few veins. The construction is very good from the start, with a cool even draw and a nearly straight-edge burn. There’s just a hint of pepper at first light. This quickly disappears and is replaced by a very mild bodied smoke with a creamy texture. Up until the half-way point the flavor is mildly woody with some herbal tea accents. The aroma is exceptional — it blends well with the flavor of the cigar and adds a spicy floral component. (Incidentally, there are none of the metallic overtones that I’ve noticed with Indonesian leaf in the past.)

The flavor picks up at the mid-point, not a lot, but enough to be noticed. Another dash of pepper is added to the mix and the finish goes from non-existent to moderately short at this point. The last third stays the course, and finally a discreet bitterness announces that the finish line has been crossed.

Overall the VegaFina robusto is an excellent mild blend: a fine mid-day smoke, great after breakfast. The price is right on these babies as well: I picked up a few for under 3 USD on the reservation, and it looks like boxes can be had for under 75 online. Factoring price into the equation, I think this is my new mild one. (Especially since it’s getting hard to find Nestor Reserve Connecticuts these days…)


Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 – Robusto Grande

Cigar Stats
Brand Owner: Tobaccos Puros de Nicaragua, S.A.
Model/Vitola: Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 – Robusto Grande (box-pressed)
Size: 5.50 x 52
Wrapper: Nicaragua Habano Criollo
Binder: Nicaragua Habana
Filler: Nicaragua Habana

Other sizes available

  • Consul 4.50 x 52 (robusto)
  • Machito 4.75 x 42 (petit corona)
  • Gran Consul 4.75 x 60 (torpedo)
  • Belicoso 6.00 x 54 (torpedo)
  • Magnum 6.00 x 60 (toro)
  • Perfecto 6.25 x 58
  • Churchill 6.875 x 48
  • Lancero 7.50 x 38 (long panatela)
Tobacco Farm at Esteli, Nicaragua
Tobacco farm at Esteli, Nicaragua

Joya de Nicaragua (The Jewel of Nicaragua) was created in Nicaragua’s first cigar factory, which opened in 1964 in the city of Esteli. In the glory days of the 1970s, the brand was arguably the finest in the world, smoked in the White House and prized for its rich flavor. After war decimated Nicaragua and the original factory burned to the ground, Joya de Nicaragua struggled to regain its former glory. Prior to 2000, the brand had taken on a mild, easygoing flavor. Responding to the trend toward full-flavored cigars and looking at its own heritage as a producer of powerful smokes, the brand’s makers created a version called Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970. This was one of the first “high octane” powerful cigars to hit the market back in the early 2000’s. It was one of the hits of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in 2002. This cigar features an extremely powerful, heavy, thick smoke highlighted by a rich, oily, almost wet-looking Maduro wrapper. This is the type of cigar that the old Cubans use to make for themselves after quitting time in the Cuban factories.

Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Band

Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970

Bottom line up front …..
“All Muscle, all the time,” is the slogan for the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 and this cigar certainly flexes its muscles. Antaño is the cigar directly responsible for reviving the struggling Joya line, and after smokng one there is no wonder as to why. It has received high ratings, a 91 in Cigar Insider and 92 in Cigar Afficianado, and was in the top 5 of Robb Report’s 2003 annual Best of the Best. Antaño, a Nicaraguan puro, is a powerhouse full of flavor; leathery and slightly earthy, this cigar is rich and spicy. The draw is excellent and the thick, dark wrapper burns well. A true treat for those who enjoy a complex and very full-bodied smoke at a very reasonable price.

A couple large veins on this dark rusty brown colored wrap but no ill effect on the burn. The head is finished with a rounded cap. No tooth is evident over the smooth oily wrap. Construction is solid with no soft spots to the light squeeze. It is well balanced in the hand and the pre-light draw is firm. Although this cigar is advertised as box-pressed, it is barely evident by looking at it. A very subtle aroma of earth and aged tobacco from the wrap. The band is good looking and took a little effort to remove but without effect on the cigar. I used my Xikar cutter for a clean clip.

The Smoking Experience
The foot toasted and lit but with some effort. The wrap is very thick and it took a couple torch blasts to get everything going but, once lit, no burn issues at all. Draw was firm but not too firm and eased just a little over the length of the cigar. Burn line got a little bumpy but always self-corrected. The ash was dark gray with small black striations and held on well to about two inches each time. This cigar puts out allot of smoke and stayed nice and cool all the way to the nub. The smoke seemed to increase in volume past the half way point.

Full bodied and full flavored this cigar leaves nothing to the imagination. Flavors hit the palate like a freight train. Starts with a surge of dark earth and pepper which quickly gives way to a core of sweet earthy flavors with subtle notes of cocoa and espresso. The nose has quite a “twang” to it. The last half ushers in more pepper and spice but not overpowering.

Definitely a strong full-bodied smoke but well balanced. I did not experience any harshness. Not the cigar for morning coffee IMO and should follow something to eat. I had both cigars for this review with McClannan 25 single malt scotch which really complimented the cigar. I’m thinking a nice cold Guiness Stout would work too.

My take …..
Being a fan of stronger cigars, I really enjoyed the Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970. I bet these are just fantastic with a year or more to age. I’m curious about the Gran Reserva as well. That’s on my list of cigars to try.

MSRP comes in at $5.00 per stick. I received mine in a trade so I’m not sure exactly what they cost originally but my local B&M has them for $6.25 a stick. Online they run $3.50 per stick if you buy a box (20) and $3.70 if you get a 5ver. Very good price point for a such a flavorful well-made cigar.

Smoke Til Your Green

Like it … Yes
Buy it again … Absolutely, maybe stock some boxes
Recommend it … Yes, to those who like potent cigars

What others are saying about the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 …..

25 March 2006
Cigarfan of Keepers of the Flame
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Robusto Grande

28 August 2006
Patrick A of The Stogie Guys
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Consul

30 May 2007
Dickie Dingleheimer
Review of Joya de Nicaragua Antano Cigars
Rated 4.60/5

As of 10 August 2007
Top 25 Cigar Ratings (26 reviews)
Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970 Robusto Grande
Average Rating 8.35 out of 10


18 May 2007 – Cigar Aficionado
An Interview with Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, Owner of Joya de Nicaragua

… lucky7

“It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep,
and never to refrain when awake.” (Mark Twain)