San Cristobal Revelation Legend

San Cristobal RevelationFor as long as I can remember, Ashton’s Virgin Sun Grown (VSG) line has been revered and sought after by cigar smokers. It is not always easy to find, and it commands a price dictated by its quality and high demand. The Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf that covers the VSG is the benchmark for Sun Grown taste, in my humble (or not-so-humble) opinion. The bright zing of this tobacco, grown by the Oliva family for Ashton, is what makes the VSG sing.

Now there is another voice to join that virgin choir — San Cristobal Revelation — which is made with a wrapper leaf from the same plant as the one used on the VSG. There is a slight difference, however. The VSG uses a stronger, spicier leaf from the top of the plant, whereas San Cristobal Revelation uses a milder mid-level viso leaf. But the similarities between the VSG and the SC Revelation end there. The VSG is more of a Fuente blend featuring Dominican tobacco,  while San Cristobal bears the mark of Pepin Garcia: the binder and filler leaves are Nicaraguan and the cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli.

San Cristobal Revelation was introduced in 2013 in five sizes:

  • Leviathan – 6 1/2 x 64
  • Legend – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Odyssey – 5 3/4 x  60
  • Mystic – 5 5/8 x 48
  • Prophet  - 5 x 54

Construction Notes

The Revelation Legend is a box pressed toro with a mottled chocolate brown wrapper and a well formed head. The cap is not as perfect as I’ve seen on other cigars out of this factory in recent years, but it’s attractive and certainly functional. The roll is solid and the draw is excellent. The cigar burns evenly, especially for a pressed stick, although it seems to burn more quickly than I had expected. There are no overheating issues and the cigar is rolled well, so this isn’t a significant issue.

Overall construction: Very good.

San Cristobal Revelation 2

Tasting Notes

The first inch of the Revelation Legend is peppery with the tannic dryness typical of most Nicaraguan blends these days. Pepin’s peppery hallmark has been appropriated (or perhaps the polite word is emulated) by so many other cigar makers that pepper-and-tannin has become the standard for Nicaraguan cigars. But the pepper here is not overwhelming, and in keeping with the medium-bodied tenor of the cigar it fades to allow cedar and a slightly spicy floral note come to the fore.

Sun grown flavors make their appearance in the mid-section of the cigar – a cinammon zing with chocolate and cedar in the background. Along with the spice there is a touch of sweetness enhanced by the cedary aroma.

The smoke concludes with a spicy char and a lengthy finish. This is a medium-bodied cigar, but it ends on a powerful, if somewhat muddied and less complex note.

Conclusion

Revelation is a fine addition to the San Cristobal line. It’s not as heavy as the original San Cristobal, but it’s spicier than the San Cristobal Elegancia. The tannins in the first inch might lighten up a bit over time, but these blends are made that way intentionally and aren’t intended to fade, so pucker up and enjoy.

So how does the Revelation stand up to the VSG? It makes a decent showing, but it is a far milder cigar. It’s like comparing Beethoven to Schumann. Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, but most cigar smokers will choose the pounding chords of the VSG over the gentle but soulful Revelation. That is no reflection on the quality of the Revelation; it’s just a matter of how much water you like in your whiskey. Sometimes a little splash is nice.

The Legend runs right around $8 USD.

San Cristobal Revelation 3Final Score: 90

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Legado de Pepin Belicoso

Legado de PepinJose “Don Pepin” Garcia will certainly leave a legacy when he departs the cigar business, but is it time already to celebrate the achievements of a lifetime? Have we seen the best of Don Pepin? I hope not. I’m waiting for the day when he can legally and in good conscience finish a blend with a Cuban wrapper. Now that will be be a legacy cigar. A smoke for the ages.

For now, however, we have Legado de Pepin, a My Father blend that appears to be a creature of Cigars International. It is appropriately a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo wrapper and a Criollo binder — a fairly typical pairing for Pepin, and one that never seems to fail. The cigar is made in Nicaragua by My Father Cigars, naturally, and in five traditional sizes:

Belicoso – 6.1 x 52

Churchill – 7 x 50

Gordo – 6 x 60

Robusto – 5 x 50

Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Legado belicoso is a snazzy looking stick. The wrapper is dark and oily with some fine veins, and the head is finished in classic Pepin style. I  tend to clip belicosos and torpedoes a bit more severely than some do because it usually improves the draw and it also limits the amount of residue that accumulates in the last third. The drawback to doing this is that sometimes the wrap will come unfurled at the shoulder of the cigar. (If a torpedo can be said to have shoulders, that is.) But the Legado was unfazed by this and held together to the end.

Just about every construction detail of this cigar was perfect — an open and productive draw, a slow burn, and a strong ash. The only deduction it suffered was a point or two for a ragged burn. The tercedors at My Father are still hitting on all cylinders, and quality control remains tops in the business.

Overall Construction: Excellent

Legado de Pepin 2

Tasting Notes

The Legado de Pepin is a medium-to-full bodied cigar, which makes it fairly mild by Pepin standards. Most cigars from the My Father factory initialize with a wave of black pepper, but this belicoso holds the spice back for a minute or two while earthy flavors and notes of cocoa open the show. It is surprisingly mild for the first half-inch or so.

The smoke texture is creamy, and the flavor is smoother than I’d expected. Up to a point, that is.

Mid-way through this cigar it turns up the heat and takes on a more classic Pepin character — loads of pepper and a fuller body. The subtler flavors are overwhelmed and the power amplified. While the sophistication and complexity of the cigar suffers for this, it’s what most smokers look for in a Nicaraguan puro, and what most smokers look for in a My Father blend.

The finale is marked by pepper, char, and a sharply earthy aftertaste.

Conclusion

I really enjoy almost any cigar from the My Father factory, and while Legado de Pepin might not be its crowning achievement, it is a worthy representative of the brand. What makes it particularly attractive is the price — a box of 20 runs around $90 USD, which is about half of what a box of My Father will set you back.

This is by no means a “budget” smoke, in terms of price or quality, but it is indeed a budget conscious smoke, and one worth checking out for the Nicaraguan puro aficionado, especially if price is an issue.

Legado de Pepin 33

Final Score: 88

San Cristobal Elegancia Pyramid

San Cristobal Elegancia

In the wintertime my thoughts usually turn to the rich dark flavors of maduro cigars, but I’ve been meaning to review this blend for so long that I’m going to make an exception to my cold weather routine and fire up a Connecticut shade.  Maybe I’m trying to turn the weather with my cigar. Let’s see if it works.

San Cristobal has been made by the crew at My Father Cigars since 2007, around the time when Don Pepin Garcia went from being the world’s premier boutique cigar maker to a major manufacturer. The cigar is made for Ashton Cigars, who began the series with a bolder blend more typical of Garcia’s stock-in-trade. In 2011 Ashton released the Elegancia extension, a much milder blend, in an attempt to satisfy the large number of cigar enthusiasts who opt for less aggressive smokes.

Beneath the suave Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper leaf of the Elegancia lies a blend of Nicaraguan filler leaves, including a Nicaraguan binder. Six sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Corona – 5.5 x 46
  • Grandioso – 6 x 60
  • Imperial – 6 x 52
  • Pyramid – 6.125 x 52
  • Churchill – 7 x 50

Construction Notes

The wrapper of the San Cristobal Elegancia is smooth and a light golden brown, fairly typical of Ecuadorian Connecticut. The roll is excellent, the cap is perfectly applied in an even spiral, and the cigar draws effortlessly yet yields a voluminous quanitity of creamy smoke. It burns evenly and builds a solid ash. There are a lot of things to like about Connecticut shade, and one of them is its predictably even burn. The Elegancia is no exception in that regard.

Overall construction: Excellent

Elegancia cigar

Tasting Notes

The Elegancia pyramid opens with its defining feature: a mild flavor combined with a very creamy texture. Many cigar smokers use the term “body” to refer to a cigar’s strength (which in turn can mean a few different things), but when I say “body” I mean the viscosity of the smoke. The Elegancia is a great example of a cigar with mild strength but full body. This smoke is like butter.

The opening flavors are nuanced and pleasant: a dry woody flavor with a smattering of black pepper, accompanied by a floral aroma. The aftertaste is tea-like, though this tea is a lot spicier than most.

As the cigar progresses it picks up a bready aroma, while soft baking spices replace the pepper on the palate.

Toward the band, the pepper returns and the base flavor becomes earthier, tannic with a citric edge. Smoking slowly, the aroma remains delicious to the end.

Conclusion

The San Cristobal Elegancia lives up to its name. This is indeed an elegant cigar. It has enough body to stand up as an after-dinner smoke, but it is probably best enjoyed after breakfast with coffee or tea. If it were just a tad less tannic in the last inch I would say it’s close to being the perfect morning smoke. As it is, it’s just damn good. Which is about what we expect from My Family and Ashton.

The Pyramid runs around $7 USD per stick, which is a good value given the quality of the cigar. Highly recommended.

Elegancia

Final Score: 90

DPG Blue Through the Years

Don Pepin Garcia Blue LabelA couple months ago Gordon Mott of Cigar Aficionado penned a blog post about the misleading use of cigar ratings in advertising. This was prompted by one manufacturer in particular who cited a 93 rating to promote a cigarillo line. The problem is that the rating was for a toro-sized cigar made by the same company 20 years ago. Unfair? Misleading? Of course it is. But if anyone should know something about smoke and mirrors, it’s a cigar aficionado.

Even if the advertising were for the same cigar, the use of that rating would still be questionable. Only the largest cigar companies are able to maintain the huge libraries of tobacco necessary to create the same blends, year after year. In many cases this just isn’t possible, especially with smaller boutique brands.

Take one of the great cigar success stories as an example. Ten years ago, Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia was virtually unknown outside the circles of cigar geeks who read blogs like this. El Rey de Los Habanos was just one of the many small shops that populated Miami’s Calle Ocho neighborhood, but they were making cigars like none other, and consumers quickly caught on. The Miami operation couldn’t keep up with demand, and after a change in name and a move to Esteli, Nicaragua,  My Father Cigars now operates a huge facility that rivals that of many long established cigar companies.

While they still make stellar cigars (some better than others) I would hesitate to call My Father “boutique” at this point in time. They are not the same company they were ten years ago, and they aren’t using the same tobacco. And yet… the Don Pepin brand name remains the same, and some fans of the brand still think of it as a boutique label. So the question is this: when I pick up a DPG Blue Label in my local cigar shop and think about that potent blast of black pepper and the cocoa and the caramel of that brilliant Nicaraguan Corojo — am I living in the past?

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I thought I might try a little experiment to test that hypothesis. Digging into the deepest recesses of my dwindling supply of aging cigars, I found DPG Blue Labels from three different years. Unfortunately they were not all the same size, but at least they represent the DPG Blue over a significant period of time: a robusto from 2006, a torpedo from 2009, and another robusto of recent vintage. All three cigars received the same treatment and were smoked under the same torrid desert conditions.

Construction Notes

There are some minor differences in appearance, but all three are well made cigars. Both the 2006 and 2013 robustos have wrappers that are fairly dry and leathery in appearance, in contrast to the torpedo, which is noticeably more oily and smooth. All three are a little bit bumpy, but solid, and they all exhibit a firm but productive draw.

The biggest surprise was the way the 2013 robusto is finished. Early on, DPG became famous for the way his cigars were perfectly triple wound, and the 2006 robusto is no exception. The cap on this ’06 cigar was precisely applied by a master craftsman. A thing of beauty. On the other hand, the 2013 robusto is not triple wound at all. While still attractive and functional, the straight cap on the newer cigar is a surprise and leaves me with a little bit of nostalgia for the good old days… remember 2006? George W. Bush? Windows XP? Okay, I guess it wasn’t that long ago…

DPG Blue robusto

Tasting Notes

What I remember most about the DPG Blue is its explosive introduction. Ask anyone who smoked the big-bore Pepins back in the day, and you’ll probably hear the same thing. I expected the 2006 robusto to have mellowed, and my expectation was borne out. What I didn’t expect was that the 2013 blend would be almost as mellow as the 2006. Either the blend has been tamed by its designers, or my palate really rose to the challenge when I smoked the ’13.

Assuming the former, it seems that the power of the Blue Label blend has waned in recent years.

The oldest of the group, the 2006 robusto, turned out to be a disappointment. The opening was mildly spicy, but the palate flavors were papery and flat. The mid-section brought some cocoa and pepper finally showed up in the last third. A complex aroma of leather and caramel saved the cigar, though it could never quite overcome the tannic and dry qualities that appeared on the palate. I was expecting more from this elder statesman, but apparently its glory days have passed.

DPG Blue 06

The 2009 torpedo was the most complex of the three: leather, cedar, and roasted nuts with increasing earthiness on the palate as the cigar progressed. In the mid-section there are caramel notes and a rich potent aroma. The cigar ends with a pretty good nicotine thump, even after four years in the box. There is a dash of pepper before the inevitable char at the finish line.

The newest exemplar of the blend, the 2013 robusto, was surprisingly smooth. I expected a major recoil from this Nicaraguan cannon, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never been a fan of overwhelming spice, but I would expect that smokers who pick up a DPG Blue are looking for that very thing, and I have to wonder if by now they’ve moved on to other blends. The smoke is medium in body and flavorful, but not wildly complex either. Some cocoa and cedar with a touch of sweetness round out the palate flavors, which get a little more concentrated as the cigar burns to its conclusion.

Conclusion

Even strong cigars lose their potency over time, but I was still surprised at how much the 2006 DPG Blue had faded. This used to be one of the heaviest sluggers around, but time has mellowed the old blend to a shadow of its former self. In the intervening years the cigar appears to have been reblended and refined, and while I wouldn’t call the 2013 blend a shadow exactly, it’s certainly not as substantial as the 2006 was when it was fresh. In between these two was the 2009 torpedo — the best of the bunch, and the closest to what I remember the original blend tasting like.

All of which is merely to point out what is fairly obvious to serious cigar connoisseurs — cigars in storage change with age, and blends change over time as manufacturers tinker with them or use other tobaccos out of necessity. The DPG Blue simply tastes different today than it did in 2006, and using a rating from years ago to describe a cigar made today is highly questionable at best.

DPG Blue 2013

El Rey de Los Habanos Toro

Rey de Los Habanos

This is the story of the one that got away.

Sometime in 2006, as the sun began to rise on the Empire of Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia, I acquired a box of El Rey de Los Habanos toros. This was the first cigar produced by Pepin’s fledgling cigar company, also called El Rey de Los Habanos, based in Miami. I smoked one every once in a while and enjoyed them. A superb everyday cigar, I thought, and one I intended to review at some point.

But I never got around to that review, and in the meantime the box got lost in the humidor shuffle. The few remaining cigars were consolidated with others that I shelved for aging, and the last remaining Red Labels were forgotten.

In the ensuing years, El Rey de Los Habanos grew from a gleam in Don Pepin’s eye to an industry giant. The company shed first its name and then its home base in Miami to emerge as My Father Cigars, a very sizeable factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. And in 2011 the humble ERDLH Red Label was discontinued.

So when I uncovered these Red Labels in a box of assorted old stuff I felt a pinch of nostalgia. Back when Pepin made cigars for private clients I remember going into Cigar King in Scottsdale and examining the wares. After asking a few questions about his Pepin-made lines, the owner ripped open a fresh bundle of ERDLH and asked me to take a whiff. The smell was strong, and rich, and the owner swore up and down that it was just like opening a box of Habanos.

I can still get a trace of that grassy funk from the wrapper of these now 7 year old cigars.

El Rey de Los Habanos came to be known as the “Red Label” to distinguish it from other cigars made at the small Miami factory. The Red Label was a Nicaraguan puro with a corojo rosado wrapper, and up until 2011 it was made in four standards sizes: robusto, toro, torpedo, and corona.

Don Pepin Red Label

Construction Notes

Cigars from the My Father factory have a well-deserved reputation for fine craftsmanship, but the construction quality of those made in the early days in Miami were even better. The head and cap on this Red Label is a work of art. The rosado wrapper still shines with oil, even after seven years in my less than optimal storage facility (a converted wine refrigerator).

Aesthetically, this is as close to perfect as a cigar gets. It is almost a shame to cut and light this toro, but after doing so I find a pleasantly easy draw and an even burn. The ash does not want to drop, but after a couple of inches I have to force the issue. I hate ash in my lap.

Overall construction: Beyond excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Red Label is a medium-bodied cigar, and as such I should have known it wasn’t the best candidate for long-term aging. The palate flavors have faded and lost a lot of complexity, but I’m happy to report that the aroma is still amazing.

The flavor for the first inch of the cigar is of plain old toasted tobacco. It’s pleasant, but one-dimensional. There is a slightly tannic flavor on the tongue, even after all these years, but the sweetness of the aroma blends with this very nicely. The quality of the aroma saves the cigar at this point.

Black pepper makes an appearance about a quarter of the way through the cigar, but this flavor stands apart and alone. It’s as if the orchestra stopped and left the bassoon player to play the rest of the piece. It’s not bad, if you like bassoon solos.

Conclusion

Over time, the tannic backbone that supported this cigar has weakened to the point that the auxiliary flavors just don’t come together anymore. It’s still a pleasant medium-bodied cigar, with a lovely woody aroma and a hint of caramel here and there, but unfortunately I think my Red Labels are past their sell-by date.

I don’t regret buying this box at all. I only regret letting the last of them get away. If you’re lucky enough to still have a few around, smoke ‘em now and enjoy.

ERDLH Red Label

Flor de las Antillas Robusto

Flor de las Antillas

New for 2012 from My Family Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua, is Flor de las Antillas. The “flower” of the Antilles is the island from which the Garcia family hails: Cuba itself. The brand name was in fact an old Havana trademark, and My Family Cigars has resurrected the name and rejuvenated the artwork for this new release.

Flor de las Antillas is a Nicaraguan puro featuring a sun-grown wrapper and several different Cuban-seed tobaccos. The cigar is box pressed and produced in four sizes:

  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Belicoso: 5 1/2 x 52
  • Toro: 6 x 52
  • Toro Gordo: 6 1/2 x 56
Construction Notes
The Flor de las Antillas robusto is a pressed cigar with a dry colorado claro wrapper. The cover leaf has a few veins, but it doesn’t look quite as weather-beaten as some sun grown wrappers. The head terminates in a flat triple-wrapped cap, and the draw is effortless. It burns evenly, and the ash it generates is almost as strong as the original cigar.

Overall construction: Superb. (No surprise, coming from My Father.)

Flor de las Antillas 2Tasting Notes

This is a somewhat unusual entry from the Garcias; it’s one of the smoothest and creamiest cigars I can recall from a cigar maker reknowned for big flavors and an explosion of pepper up front. A little bit of pepper creeps up in the sinuses for the first minute or two, but there is no bite on the tongue at all. Some leathery scents emerge which balance nicely with mild cedary spices, but for the most part this is just a very smooth medium-bodied cigar with a creamy smoke texture.

The middle section continues along the same trajectory, with some caramel sweetness added into the mix. This aroma doesn’t seem quite as robust as the Corojo 99 that I love on medium-bodied Garcia cigars like Vegas Cubanas, but it’s a little more complex and similarly balanced with mild spice.

The last third is increasingly peppery, but compared to many of My Father’s full-bodied blends (like Le Bijou, for instance) it’s really quite tame. Most of the spice tingles in the sinuses with only a fleeting nip on the tongue.

Conclusion

La Flor de las Antillas fills a spot in the medium-bodied lineup for My Father Cigars, perhaps to fill vacancies left by blends like El Rey de Los Habanos and El Centurion. It’s a nicely balanced cigar with hints of leather and cedar topped off with some caramel sweetness, and only a shadow of the pepper that is the hallmark of this Nicaraguan family. It’s also priced well. At around $6.00 it’s well within the median price range for premium smokes.

It didn’t blow me into the stratosphere, but smokers who like medium-bodied Nicaraguan blends — like Vegas Cubana or the old Padilla 1948 — should definitely check this one out.
Flor de las Antillas 3
Final Score: 89

My Father Cedros Deluxe Cervantes

My Father Cigars reports that they have 700 employees, but there is nary a typist among them. Okay, I’m speculating about that last bit. Perhaps there is another reason why their website is so attractive and yet barren of content, but I’m fond of the notion that it is due to a paucity of secretarial skills in the workforce.

Those 7000 dextrous digits are kept away from all keyboards and directed instead to the rolling gallery of the Garcia Family Industrial Park, where they are producing some of Nicaragua’s finest smokes.

Soon after the My Father line of cigars was introduced in 2008, the Cedros Deluxe line was added in the lonsdale and corona gorda sizes, called Cervantes and Eminentes respectively. At first glance it’s difficult to see why the cedar is necessary because the regular My Father line is an impressively rich cigar to begin with. I guess cedar is like cowbell — more is better.

Due to the lack of information on this cigar I’m going to hazard a guess that the composition is the same as the standard My Father line — a blend of Nicaraguan fillers and binder (grown on the Garcias’ La Estrella farm in Esteli) and a Habano-Criollo hybrid wrapper from the Oliva Tobacco company in Ecuador.

Construction Notes

The stamped cedar sleeve on the My Father Cedros is an attractive aesthetic feature as well as a flavor enhancer, and the fact that it slides off so easily is pleasing as well. The wrapper is a ruddy colorado maduro with some fine veins and a touch of oil. As expected, the roll and the finishing touches at the head of the cigar are precise and refined.

The Cedros version seemed to burn a little bit faster than the No. 1, but it also seemed lighter to me, so maybe the proportion of ligero to lighter more combustible leaf is a bit different here. The Cervantes burned beautifully and exhibited in all other respects excellent construction, even exceeding the high quality of the the No. 1.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

Anticipating my experience with the My Father No. 1, I was expecting the Cedros Deluxe to open with lashings of black pepper, but the Cervantes turns out to be a much more congenial cigar. Pepper is still front and center, but it’s balanced by other flavors and takes a civilized approach (as opposed to the hooligan mentality of the DPG Blue or the like.)

The cedar lends a sweet character to the smoke that blends well with an earthy and tannic flavor on the palate. A caramel-like quality shows up after an inch or two as the pepper relaxes.

The second half of the cigar develops more complexity as leathery flavors overtake the earthy ones. The smoke remains quite smooth and easy going, about medium in body and strength. The sweet cedary notes turn a bit darker. At one point I detected coconut, which might be attributed to environmental factors, like smoking in the waning hours of a summer day that pushed the mercury to 114 degrees. At the band the flavors start to char a bit and I’m ready to seek psychiatric assistance, or at least to go inside and cool off.

Conclusion

The My Father Cedros Cervantes is a slightly milder and more aromatic version of the My Father blend. I’m not sure if that is due to the size or if the blend has been tweaked for the Cedros Deluxe, but either way it suits me fine. It’s smooth and laden with cedar sweetness in balance with leather and earth.

Though perhaps not quite as complex as the No. 1, it’s well worth smoking as a medium-bodied alternative. Pricing is about the same, unfortunately — around $8-9 per stick. But in this case it’s worth the expense.

Final Score: 91