Some Newish Gran Habanos

There are a few catalog cigars that have become staples in my humidor. When I see them at a good price, I snap them up because I always need good everyday smokes. Among those are the Gran Habano No. 5 and the 3 SLS (formerly 3 Siglos.) There is an earthy character to a lot of Gran Habano cigars — the SLS in particular — that appeals to me in a certain mood, when the weather is cool and I want to wallow in the terroir.  So when some samples from GH appeared unexpectedly in my mailbox a couple months ago I was not displeased.

Some short reflections on those samples:

Gran Habano Corojo Maduro 2011

First, my favorite of the lot: the Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011.

Made in Honduras with a Corojo Maduro wrapper from Nicaragua, an Habano binder, and filler from Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s Jalapa valley, the company calls this cigar “the strongest blend in the Gran Habano profile.”  I did not find this 6 x 54 Gran Rubusto to be overly strong, but it was well built and quite tasty. It is rough in appearance and the cap is a little slipshod, but that’s the nature of maduro leaf. More importantly, the draw is excellent and it burns like it has all day.

The flavors are initially a bit outside the standard maduro spectrum: piney with a syrupy sweetness. After an inch the more conventional cocoa/coffee flavors kick in, and then that trademark Gran Habano earth appears on the palate. It’s a nice balance of flavors with more complexity than your average maduro cigar. The rich pine taste in the first inch is a great complement to the traditional maduro flavors.

Gran Habano Reserva No. 5 2011

The Gran Habano Gran Reserva No. 5 appears to have the same internal anatomy as the Corojo No. 5 Maduro, with a natural corojo wrapper swapped out for the maduro. Beneath the cedar sheath, the wrapper is in fact only slightly lighter than the one on the Maduro blend, but the flavor is quite different. Unfortunately this particular sample seemed to be either underfilled or rolled too loosely, resulting in a hot and airy draw.

The flavors are similar to the No. 5 that I’m familiar with, but a little more complex. The earthy, slightly musty flavor appears in the middle of the cigar, but before that is an interesting prelude of licorice and cherry, followed by a sweet barbecue char. It’s a meaty cigar, and assuming that the construction flaw is simply a fluke I’ll be picking this one up as a nice companion by the grill.

Of the four sticks in this sampler the George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition wins in two categories: longest name and most unique packaging. The Zulu Zulu arrives in a decorated paper sheath that veils the cigar from top to bottom. This touch of the artist comes courtesy Rico’s friend, “Mas Paz,” who also contributed the box art. The cigar itself is made in Miami at the G.R. Tabacaleras factory and comes in either an Ecuadorian Connecticut or a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. Based on taste and appearance I’m going to guess this was the Ecuadorian CT.

George Rico Zulu Zulu

The Zulu Zulu is a beautifully rolled cigar: the perfectly triple wound head topped with a pigtail cap is right in step with the blend’s other aesthetic considerations. (So naturally I botched the cut and cracked the wrapper at the head.) The natural claro wrapper is smooth with widely spaced veins. The burn and draw are excellent, as is the construction in general. It opens with floral aromatics and an earthy dry taste on the palate. The tannins ease up as the cigar burns, and the floral element turns to cedar, with a little leather or musk in the background. There is a yeasty-malty aspect to this cigar in the transition from middle to last third that is reminiscent of many medium-bodied Habanos. (S.A., that is.)

G.A.R. Red

The last contender is from Gran Habano’s econo line: G.A.R. Red by George Rico. It’s a smooth cigar, though this sample was slightly marred by a loose draw. The flavor is mild and grassy and the aroma is light, sweet, and woody. It burned a bit hot, but for a bargain/bundle smoke it’s not bad at all.


Gran Habano’s Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 is an exceptional maduro, and the S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu is just a sweetheart of a cigar. If you put both in front of me and made me choose, it wouldn’t be an easy decision, but I’d probably fall for the No. 5 2011 Maduro.

Sabor de Esteli Maduro

Sabor de Esteli Maduro

Someday I hope that I can start a review with a story about a burgeoning cigar star who was raised in the Cuban cigar tradition and never had to leave his homeland. But that story is not yet ready to be told. So the story of Noel Rojas will sound familiar: after working in the fields of Pinar del Rio from a young age and building a solid reserve of knowledge and experience in the Cuban cigar industry he discovered, like so many others, that he would have to leave Cuba to succeed.

Rojas followed in the footsteps of many other talented cigar makers and made his way to Nicaragua. With advice from luminaries like Arsenio Ramos, Rojas began to build his own business, even turning his house into a factory and storage facility when he had no alternative. Today he operates his own factory, Aromas de Jalapa, in Esteli, Nicaragua, and has several lines in production, most notably Guayacan. (He also makes one of the best cigars I smoked last year: Draig Cayuquero.)

Sabor de Esteli was introduced at the IPCPR in 2014 and is also available in a natural Ecuadorian Habano. The Maduro presented here utilizes a Mexican wrapper from the San Andres valley, along with filler and binder leaves from Esteli. It is a telling feature of the cigar that there is no seco or volado leaf in the blend — the filler blend is viso and ligero only. Four sizes are in production:

  • Gordo: 6 x 60
  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 52
  • Corona: 6 1/2 x 42 (limited production)

Sabor de Esteli Maduro 2

Construction Notes

The Sabor de Esteli Maduro is a pressed cigar, which distinguishes it from its conventionally round sibling in the natural wrapper. The San Andres wrapper is smooth and consistent in color — not pitch black, but definitely well matured. The head of the cigar is well formed, even if the cap is a finished a little roughly. The roll seems a little loose, but the draw is not too easy and the even burn produces a strangely lightweight, but solid ash.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The maduro characteristics of this cigar are apparent from the start: bittersweet chocolate is the flavor that rarely wavers here. The smoke is smooth and creamy, but the peppery spice that opens up in the nose and gradually moves to the palate adds a dimension of complexity to the smooth waves of chocolate rising from the wrapper.

In the mid-section the pepper eases up a bit while the tannins bear down on the palate. Milder aromatics come forward as the spice dissipates: cedar and coffee predominate, but there is some fruity sweetness here as well.

The last third of the cigar becomes earthier. The tannins are heavy and become a little cloying, but the aromatics are good to the last whiff. The body of the cigar is a satisfying medium and the strength moves from medium to full at the conclusion.


With no seco or volado in this cigar, I was expecting Sabor de Esteli to be a much more potent smoke. It’s not a lightweight by any means, but it’s not a ligero grenade either. Instead, it’s a smooth and tasty smoke with the flavors one typically expects from a maduro of Nicaraguan provenance: chocolate and wood built on a dry tannic chassis.

I often find maduro cigars to be less interesting or complex than their natural brethren, but that can’t be said of Sabor de Esteli. My only criticism is that the smoke is quite dry — a pint of your favored stout or porter might make a nice companion here. Maybe two pints.

Sabor de Esteli Maduro 3

Final Score: 89

You won’t find this one next to the King Edwards at the gas station, but with distribution from the House of Emilio it’s not too hard to find. MSRP is around $8 USD for the toro.

CAO Colombia Tinto

CAO Colombia Tinto

Using unusual tobaccos from countries not known for their tobacco production is a good way to appeal to the novelty-driven cigar smoker. Use fire-cured pipe tobacco in a cigar? Sure, I’ll try it. I might hate it — and I did hate it — but I had to try it. CAO’s Colombia blend relies on a similar device. They claim on the Cigar World website that the CAO Colombia is the “first cigar to prominently feature Colombian tobacco.” Well, it isn’t.

Not only is it not the first cigar to prominently feature Colombian tobacco, but it isn’t even CAO’s first Colombian. Only a few years ago, the CAO Escaparate Colombia was made for Serious Cigars, though admittedly in limited numbers for a limited time. The Escaparate was a Colombian puro, as was the Colombian Gold made by Bravo Cigars that I reviewed many years ago. I loved the Colombian Gold and I’m happy to see a major cigar producer using Colombian tobacco, however it gets to market.

CAO’s Colombia is not a puro like the Escaparate Colombia — not even close, actually. To get to the Colombian we first have to visit the Jamastran valley of Honduras, where the wrapper originates, take a side trip to Cameroon for the binder, swim the Atlantic to Brazil for some Mata Fina long filler, and then finally we arrive the tiny village of Masinga in the Magdalena Department of Colombia. Here is where the ICA Mazinga comes from.

I was a little concerned about this “Ica Mazinga.” Slide the a in “Ica” over to the next word and it’s “IC Amazing”. Uh, yeah. So I had to dig around a bit. ICA turns out to be the acronym for the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario, the Colombian Agricultural Institute. It seems they are the the ones who developed this variety of black tobacco.

I ran across a document in Spanish that explains a little about ICA Masinga:

ICA-Masinga, an improvement on the Cuban Prieto, produces thin leaves with an abundance of fine veins, good color, texture and aroma; the plant has an average height of 2.20 meters, 40 leaves, and a growth cycle of 150 to 160 days.

The Cubita variety has been cultivated on the Atlantic coast since 1870 using varieties brought from Cuba with the initial goal of catering to the German cigar market. At first it was cultivated in the Departments of Sucre … and later expanded to Magdalena. The principal varieties cultivated have been ICA-Masinga, Cubita 12, Peraltero. Today they are exported to Germany for the production of cigars, and to France, Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco for the production of cigarettes.

— “Acuerdo de competitividad de la Cadena Productiva del Tabaco en Colombia”

Suffice it to say that ICA Masinga (or Mazinga) is a real thing.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Magdalena – 6.25 x 54
  • Bogota – 6 x 60
  • Vallenato – 5 x 56
  • Tinto – 5 x 50

CAO Colombia Tinto 2

Construction Notes

The CAO Colombia Tinto (robusto) is an attractive cigar with a glossy wrapper the shade of milk chocolate. There are some fine veins, but nothing to detract from this robusto’s uniform appearance. The roll is solid, the draw is easy, and it burns beautifully.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

As the curtain rises the Colombia Tinto goes into a soft-shoe routine that won’t offend anyone: mild notes of cedar overlay a grassy foundation. My first thought is that this is going to make a nice morning companion to my coffee on the patio. After a few puffs I’m impressed by the viscosity of the smoke: by the mid-point of the cigar I’d even call it buttery.

The flavor of this robusto does not undergo a dramatic metamorphosis in its journey to nubdom, but there is a gradual transition across the spectrum of sweetness. The herbal base flavor becomes a little earthier, almost musky, while another dimension of spice is added to the aroma: it’s a sweet woody aroma less sharp than cedar, almost like sandalwood joined by a touch of caramel.


If olfactory memory serves, the CAO Colombia is a lot like Bravo’s now-extinct Colombian Gold. Like that cigar, CAO’s blend is a mild but earthy Cuban-style smoke with great aroma and a nice body. This is a medium-to-full bodied blend but it is mild in strength and flavor. A great breakfast smoke and a perfect choice for the mild cigar enthusiast. To cap it off, the price is surprisingly affordable: $4 to 5 USD per stick (box price).

CAO Colombia Tinto 3

Final Score: 90

Rocky Patel Decade Cameroon

RP Decade Cameroon

Friends and family who know I am a cigar smoker were very excited for me when the news of restored relations with Cuba was reported earlier this year. I wanted to be excited too, but instead I had to explain that this diplomatic thaw does not mean the gates to the promised land have been flung wide open. As of today, Cuban imports are still on the U.S. Treasury Department’s hit list.

But what surprised them even more was when I said that legal access to Habanos was not what I’m looking forward to most. What I’m really excited about is the possibility that top Nicaraguan cigar blenders may soon have access to Cuban wrapper leaf. I’ve smoked some fine Habanos, and I’ve smoked some really disappointing Habanos. What gets my heart pumping now is the thought of what a cigar blender like Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia or Arsenio Ramos might do with Nicaraguan fillers and a Cuban capa. A wrapper leaf can change everything.

As an example, Rocky Patel’s Decade utilizes a dark Sumatran leaf grown in Ecuador. The core of the original Decade is Nicaraguan, giving it a nice acidic bite, but the wrapper lends it a maduro-like temperament: it’s rich and sweet with chocolate and cocoa. What happens when that wrapper is switched out for something a little different?

That’s just what Rocky did with the Decade Cameroon. The core of the cigar is the same as the original Decade, and it is made in Plasencia’s El Paraiso factory in Honduras, just like the original. The core blend is still undisclosed (though it is reportedly Nicaraguan.) The difference is the wrapper, and the difference is substantial. The Decade Cameroon was released at least year’s IPCPR convention and is available in three sizes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52

RP Decade Cameroon 3

Construction Notes

For the review I smoked the RP Decade Cameroon in the Robusto and the Toro sizes. Both were well made sticks, but the finishing touches on the Robusto were a little cleaner. The cap on the Robusto was simple but seamless, while the Toro’s was ragged and a little sloppy. The head of the Robusto was almost flat, while the Toro’s was slightly lopsided.

The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro with a few small sunspots. The draw in both sizes was firm but productive and the burn was even and consistent.

Overall Construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The Toro and the Robusto did not vary too much in terms of flavor, though the Toro scored a little higher on the intensity chart. The base flavor is earthy with a little tartness and a touch of black pepper on the tongue. On the nose there is cedar with an overtone of clove.

The sweetness of the original Decade lurks beneath the surface and makes a showing in the second and third stages of the cigar: coffee and brown sugar come to the fore, and as the tartness fades in the last third there is chocolate and maybe even caramel. The big difference here is the minty clove-like spice that comes from the Cameroon wrapper. The Cameroon Decade is every bit as rich and smooth as the original, but it’s a more complex blend of flavors.


Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown Robusto has been my mainstay Rocky smoke for a long time, but in the past couple of years I’ve become disenchanted with it. I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s the blend, but it just doesn’t taste as bright and smooth as it used to. The Decade Cameroon might be my favorite blend in the RP lineup now. It reminds me a little of the Partagas Benji Menendez Master Series — rich and smooth with that savory Cameroon tang. What a difference a wrapper can make.

At $9 to 10 USD per stick, the Decade Cameroon is not a cheap date, but this is no fast food cigar. It has considerable competition in that price range: the aforementioned Partagas and Fuente’s Don Carlos line perform similar tricks with Cameroon wrapper.  But on a good day I think the Decade Cameroon can keep pace with those big dogs.

RP Decade Cameroon 4

Final Score: 90

Carnavale 3

Carnavale by Epicurean Cigars

Carnavale by Epicurean

Details on the Carnavale are a bit scarce, but the cigar itself is a bit scarce: released in 2014, production was initially limited to 500 boxes per year, but then it was increased to 1000. The cigar is made in Honduras for Epicurean Cigars and distributed by the House of Emilio.

The blend is complex: the wrapper is an habano oscuro grown in Jalapa, Nicaragua; two binders are utilized, a Pennsylvania broadleaf (yes!) doubled up with a leaf from Honduras, and the filler is a Nicaraguan blend (Jalapa and Esteli.) Five sizes are in very limited production:

  • Lancero – 6 1/2 x 38
  • Petite Corona – 5 1/2 x 48
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Tabajador – 5 x 52
  • Double Robusto – 5 x 56

Carnavale 2

Construction Notes

The Double Robusto is a smooth maduro-colored cigar with a somewhat garish band. This is obviously the cigar to be seen with on Bourbon Street. The cigar is square pressed with a double wound cap on a nearly flat head. The cigar is very firm and the draw offers light resistance. The burn is slightly uneven, but not problematic.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The wrapper on the Carnavale is an habano oscuro, but you could have fooled me. This cigar tastes like a maduro through and through. It opens with bittersweet chocolate and cedar on the nose, while grassy flavors entertain the palate. The smoke is very smooth, but also fairly dry.

The flavors maintain their balance and complexity without too much transition in the second half, though the chocolate takes on more coffee-like characteristics and the light peppery spice evident in the first half builds and peaks in the latter half. Both the body and the strength of the cigar land in the mild to medium range.


When is a maduro not a maduro? When it’s an Epicurean Carnavale. The Carnavale is a high quality maduro-style cigar that isn’t a maduro, but it sure smokes like one. It reminded me of a lighter version of the Draig Cayuquero, an Emilio blend even scarcer than the Carnavale, but both cigars are worth seeking out.

The Carnavale wasn’t quite the revelation that the Draig was, but it’s a fine smoke in its own right. If only the price were just as right — $10 USD. That’s a bit of a stretch for me. As it is, I’d still be happy to have a few on hand. Complex yet mild maduro (style) cigars aren’t all that easy to find.

Carnavale 3

Final Score: 89


Punch Signature Robusto

The first time I smoked a Punch cigar I was expecting a wallop that never arrived. It’s called Punch for a reason right? Yes, it is, but that’s not the reason.

Punch ultimately derives its name from the “Punch and Judy” puppet shows that were popular in England and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. The plots of the shows were always improvised, but they ran along a familiar line. Punch, an abysmally inept caretaker, is left in charge of the Baby while his wife, Judy, exits momentarily on an errand of some sort. She returns to discover Punch sitting on the poor puppet child, or she finds out that the infant has been run through the sausage machine, or some other unutterable abuse has occurred, upon which she flies into a rage. After assaulting Punch with a conveniently placed implement, a policeman appears, a fight breaks out, and slapstick ensues. Other characters occasionally appear: crocodiles, ghosts, Toby the Dog, et al., and then the show concludes with a battle between Punch and the Devil. Naturally, Punch escapes the retribution that the Dark Puppet has arrived to exact.

Charles Dickens said, “In my opinion the street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive.” So don’t go looking for a moral to this story.

The character that appears on the band of the Punch Signature cigar is Punchinello, as he is depicted in the 18th century British humor magazine, which borrowed the character from the well-known street shows.

None of which has to do with the power of a cigar. The Punch Signature might change all that.

Agustin Garcia, the blender of the Punch Signature, says that the Punch Signature was inspired by the original Punch blend, but it is clearly a much different cigar. He asks us to “think of it as a brother who has a lot of fire in him, but also respects tradition and the family name.” Truth be told, I think this brother might have been adopted.

Punch Signature was built around an Ecuadorian corojo wrapper specially cultivated for this blend. The binder is a proprietary Connecticut Habano, and the filler is Dominican and Nicaraguan, “of the same variety as the original Punch blend.” The blend is composed of both aged and younger leaf to achieve a balance between the flavor of the old and the strength of the young.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Rothschild – 4 1/2 x 50
  • Torpedo – 5 3/4 x 52
  • Gigante – 6 x 60

Punch Signature 2

Construction Notes

The Robusto is about as well made as one could expect — and one does expect this from General Cigar. The wrapper is a dark and oily colorado maduro. The head is nicely rounded and clips well, but the cap is a little messy. Examining the business end of the cigar I notice swirls of darker tobacco in the filler bunch.

The roll is solid, the draw is excellent, and the burn is slow. The ash is firm and yellowish gray, but a little flaky on the surface. This is easily a 90 minute smoke for me. Aside from the occasionally sloppy cap, the construction values here are above par.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

A burst of black pepper coats the tongue and palate in the first segment of the Signature Robusto. There is some astringency here that I associate with Nicaraguan blends, but there is also a lot of leather in the aroma. The pepper gradually subsides, making way for flavors of leather and seared meat. There is a barbecue-like quality to this cigar, a burnt fatty char similar to what you get from the Maillard reaction when searing a good steak.

The aftertaste is earthy and the pepper returns for an encore, but for the most part the flavors don’t change too much. It’s not a subtle smoke, and would probably make a good companion at the grill.


The Punch Signature is a cigar that truly lives up the pugilistic character that the Punch name suggests. It calls for a hearty meal beforehand and a drink that can speak truth to power for about an hour and a half running. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range. That’s not out of line, though it has some serious competition at that price.

Punch Signature 3

Final Score: 88

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples of the Punch Signature Robusto for review. 

Espinosa Habano Toro

Espinosa Habano

Espinosa Habano was the first cigar to be made in La Zona, Erik Espinosa’s new factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. EO Brands, formerly owned and operated by Espinosa in concert with Eddie Ortega, broke up a few years ago. Both are producing blends on their own now: Espinosa is still producing 601, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio, and Ortega still has Cubao, my favorite of the old EO brands. But as we know, nothing remains static in the cigar world, so both cigar makers have new blends that are quickly gaining in stature.

The early EO Brands were made by the Garcia family. That is not an easy act to follow, but Espinosa is keeping the key construction features of those cigars, including entubado rolling and triple-seam caps.

Details of the composition of the Espinosa Habano are a bit cloudy. According to Cigar Aficionado and its affiliate publication Cigar Insider, the blend employs Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves with a “mid-to-low priming Ecuador Habano” wrapper. According to, the cigar is a Nicaguan puro with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. According to the source, it’s nunya business. Espinosa ain’t talking.

It seems I have no choice but to implement my own enhanced interrogation and lay some fire on the feet of these resistant subjects.

Four sizes are in regular production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro- 6 x 52
  • Belicoso- 6 1/8 x 52
  • Trabuco – 6 x 60

Espinosa Habano 2

Construction Notes

The golden brown wrapper on the Espinosa Habano Toro is attractively smooth but a little bit fragile. The widely spaced views are a good indication that the wrapper is Ecuadorian, but whatever it is, it’s fine looking stick. The roll is solid, but a little bit bumpy, perhaps due to the delicate nature of the capa leaf. The head is neatly finished with a triple cap.

One of the toros I smoked had a perfect draw; the other was not plugged, but it was almost too tight to smoke. In both cases the wrapper was reluctant to burn in sync with the rest of the cigar, and then it cracked.  My experience is that a blender will often discount a wrapper’s flaws when the aromatic qualities outweigh them, and that seems to be what is going on here.

Overall construction: Fair, based on two samples.

Tasting Notes

The Toro opens with lots of black pepper and earth on the palate. The smoke is a little dry, but the flavors are sharp. On the nose there is an oaky vanilla with a touch of cocoa. The smoke texture is almost creamy at times; the combination of pepper and cream reminds me a little of another of Espinosa’s cigars: the 601 Connecticut.

The flavors don’t transition too much until the last stage of the cigar, but they are complex throughout. The pepper and earth continue strong on the palate but the aroma gets a little sweeter, adding cedar and a fruity element that I can’t quite identify. The aftertaste remains earthy and the finish is long.

The cigar is about medium in strength, but it flexes its muscles a bit in the last couple of inches. The last stage is packed with pepper and earth until it begins to char at the finish line.


The wrapper leaf on the Espinosa Habano is finicky, but oh so tasty. The combination of pepper and cream is unusual, but this toro pulls it off…like peanut butter and sriracha. I have some concerns about the cigar’s construction that require further research, but the flavors are exceptional. At around $6 USD it’s a bit above my everyday smoke range, but the complexity of flavor is commensurate with the price.

Espinosa Habano 3Other Opinions of Note

Casas Fumando reviews the Espinosa Habano Robusto.

Stogies on the Rocks takes stock of the Belicoso.

Stogie Press fires up the Toro.