Padilla Artemis

Padilla’s Artemis series is the first box pressed cigar for Padilla, but just about everything else about it is quite familiar — it’s a Nicaraguan puro utilizing Aganorsa tobacco, and it’s made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras. Those are enticing details, and enough to get my salivary glands going.

Artemis uses Cuban-seed criollo and corojo from Nicaragua’s now-famous Aganorsa company, a tobacco grower affiliated with Casa Fernandez cigars. The line was originally released in 2011 as a brick-and-mortar exclusive, but it now appears to be available online as well.

It looks like the lion from the Dominus line has clawed its way to the top of the advertising department and has been declared the company’s icon. It now appears on the bands for Padilla’s Miami and 1932 lines as well, bringing some needed consistency to the brand’s presentation. (I was always fond of the fountain pen nib on the bands of some of the older blends, but there is something to be said for a single and recognizable emblem.)

Padilla’s Artemis is available in four sizes:

  • Robusto: 5 x 54
  • Torpedo: 6 1/4 x 52
  • Toro: 6 x 54
  • Double torpedo: 6 3/4 x 56

Construction Notes

I’m glad I smoked the Artemis in two sizes, the robusto and the double torpedo, because one was simply superior to the other. Both are nice looking sticks, especially the double torpedo. In reality this is a zepellin perfecto, and a big one, with a finely finished head and foot. (The head and the foot are distinguishable only by the placement of the band.)

The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro with a moderate amount of oil. Both sizes had an accessible draw, and the box press didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the performance of the cigar. But I experienced a burn problem with the double torpedo that I didn’t with the robusto, and it wasn’t the irregular burn that is the hallmark of many box-pressed cigars.  This was a more serious problem that affected the taste of the cigar — the wrapper would not burn in sync with the binder and filler, resulting in a flavor that was at first merely tepid, but quickly made it hot, bitter, and unbalanced.

For this reason I’m going to focus on the robusto and not the double torp.

Overall construction: Very good for the robusto; Needs improvement for the double torpedo.

Tasting Notes

If you’re familiar with the Padilla 1932 or some of the cigars from Casa Fernandez you’ll recognize the flavor of Aganorsa tobacco. It’s a little different in the Artemis, but it’s there. The first notes are of leather with some sweetness and a little bite. The aroma is slightly fruity, but also reminiscent of hardwood smoke — something like hickory, perhaps. After a minute or two the pepper begins to build on the palate.

The mid-section is earthy but a little sharp. The flavor isn’t quite as clean as Illusione’s “original document” line, but it has that crisp minerally tang which is Aganorsa’s trademark.

The final inch and a half is rich and powerful in flavor, though the cigar is still medium-to-heavy in both body and strength. The last section bottoms out a little as the spice takes over and edges out the subtle notes on the nose.

Conclusion

Fans of Padilla and Aganorsa leaf will probably enjoy the Artemis, though perhaps not as much as some other blends that employ that particular leaf. The flavors are quite pronounced, and in the robusto were well balanced up to the last third of the cigar.

I was more than a little disappointed in the double torpedo, but I would probably pick up the robusto again at the right price. The right price for me is a little south of the MSRP, which is in the 9 to 10 USD range. To be honest, Padilla has already provided this cigar’s competition in the Padilla 1932, and in that contest the winner goes to the elder blend.

Final Score: 86

Due to a memory error in my camera I lost my cigar-in-progress photos. I know you only come here for the articles, but my apologies anyway. 

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Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf

As one of the purveyors of Nicaragua’s finest black tobacco, Casa Fernandez (and its farms) really ought to be better known by now. If you enjoy Illusione or Padilla cigars, both of which employ Aganorsa Leaf as a key ingredient,  you’re just going to have to hunt up some Casa Fernandez products: Particulares, Condega, and JFR (Just for Retailers) are all bangin’ smokes.

Last year I surveyed a few of their offerings, including the flagship Casa Fernandez cigar,  so I got a little chill up my spine when I saw there was a new formulation on the shelves.

Aganorsa is an acronym for Agricola Norteña S.A., the tobacco manufacturing arm of Casa Fernandez, and one of Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia’s first employers after he left Cuba. For quite a long time the company (also known as Tabacalera Tropical) was satisfied with rolling just a few different blends and concentrating its resources on tobacco production. With the advent of Casa Fernandez it looks like they are promoting the cigar side of their business with more gusto. It’s not hard to see why.

The Aganorsa Leaf extension of Casa Fernandez is similar to the original line in flavor, but with its dark corojo wrapper it is bolder and more potent. It might sacrifice a little complexity in exchange for power, but until I do a side-by-side comparison I can’t say for sure.

The binder and filler are also Nicaraguan, of course, and are probably from the Aganorsa farms as well. The Aganorsa Leaf line is box-pressed and sold in boxes of 15.  Three sizes are available:

  • Robusto: 5 x 52
  • Toro: 6 x 54
  • Torpedo: 6 1/2 x 52

Construction Notes

The Aganorsa Leaf torpedo is a solid and swarthy looking cigar. Its sturdy square press and dark, weathered wrapper give it a rustic appeal. The head is wrapped well and clips cleanly. It draws perfectly, though the burn is somewhat irregular, which is fairly typical of both maduro or oscuro wrappers and of box pressed cigars. The ash is a dark dirty gray streaked with black. If you smoke Illusione cigars you know what this looks like.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

When you light up this cigar it is almost immediately apparent that you’re in for a ride. The smoke is thick, full-bodied, and rich. The flavors are crisp and sweet but heavy.

The first inch of the cigar is dominated by a sweet woody flavor, reminiscent of juniper smoke and the smells of late autumn as the temperature drops and people fire up the wood stoves and fireplaces. The smoke is smooth, but assertive.

In the middle section the assertion becomes more of an insistence. The flavors turn a little darker and less sweet: coffee and baker’s chocolate come to mind. The flavor is still crisp, but the smoke starts to bite a little. The finish is lengthy and the aftertaste spicy.

By the last third you’re either in it to win it or staring at the stars. This is a powerful smoke. The aftertaste is profound and cries out for a beverage to match — whisky would be a welcome companion. A strong aftertaste of pepper and char lingers long after the last puff.

Conclusion

For lovers of full bodied Nicaraguan style cigars, the Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf is a must-try. Its powerful finish, peppery aftertaste, and solid kick are exactly what a lot of full-bodied cigar smokers are after. It is a little too aggressive for me to smoke on a regular basis, but occasionally even I like to get out the big guns. As long as it has the flavor and finesse to match the fire-power there is a place for it in my humidor. And this one achieves that balance. I also expect this cigar will age very well.

Boxes of 15 sell for around 100 USD, and singles are hovering around the $7 mark. Pick up a five-pack and let me know what you think.

Final Score: 89

Casa Fernandez Robusto

CasaFernandez

It’s safe to say that the Casa Fernandez cigar is the flagship blend of Casa de Fernandez, the new face of Tabacalera Tropical. The cigar was introduced in 2007, before the company’s name change, but it hasn’t gotten as much press as I would expect. The lancero has received some attention on the cigar forums (mostly positive) but only a few of the review sites have taken a serious look at the blend. After smoking this cigar, I don’t think that it’s a quality issue. The fact is that this cigar is not terribly easy to find on the shelves.

It looks like the distribution of this brand is spread worldwide, so maybe it’s easier to find in Europe or Asia than on American retail shelves. I had to track these down online.

The Casa Fernandez features a wrapper that is dramatically described as “Super Premium grade ‘A’ 2006 Sun Grown Corojo.” It is of course an Aganorsa grown Nicaraguan leaf, as are the binder and filler leaves.

Five vitolas are listed as currently in production, per the Casa de Fernandez website:

  • Robusto – 4 1/2 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Lancero – 7 1/2 x 40
  • Salomon – 7 1/8 x 60  (the Salomon is also available in Ecuadorian Connecticut and Nicaraguan Maduro)

Construction

This robusto seems squat by comparison with traditional 5 x 50 robustos; it’s slightly truncated and a little overinflated, but handsome nevertheless. It feels a little light in the hand, but the pack is firm with no soft spots. The pig-tail cap is mashed into the head of the cigar, making a little swirl that is easily overlooked.CasaFernandez2 (The same technique is used to finish the Particulares cigar.)  The triple cap is otherwise extremely well executed. The wrapper is dark, glossy and attractive, despite being a little rough. The corojo cover leaf seems to be very thin, allowing the  texture of the rough binder leaf to show on the surface of the cigar. One sample arrived with a small v-shaped crack that posed only a cosmetic threat.

The Casa Fernandez burns well with an open draw.  The ash is dark and little bit crumbly — typical of Aganorsa leaf, and not really an issue. CasaFernandez3One odd thing I noticed was that the ligero centered in the middle of the cigar seems to flame out as the cigar burns, creating the illusion that the cigar is tunneling, when it really isn’t. I would say it was my imagination, but it happened with both of the cigars I smoked.

Tasting Notes

The smoking characteristics of the Casa Fernandez are quite similar to the Particulares, but a little heavier. There is more pepper and more punch to this cigar, especially in the back half.

The first few puffs of smoke are smooth in texture but are served with plenty of black pepper. It doesn’t come out as trenchantly as say, the Don Pepin Blue, but it isn’t shy either. The aroma is corojo all the way — caramel sweetness over an underlying cedary base.

The pepper dies down after the two-thirds point and the flavor becomes less sharp. An astringent woodiness takes over from here, accompanied by a pleasant and familiar nuttiness. The aroma continues on the same track as before, but replaces some of its sweetness with a stronger pungency while remaining woodsy and cedar-like.

The last part of the cigar turns up the heat. Pepper returns on the palate and the aftertaste becomes tannic. While still tasty, the smoke becomes a little too aggressive for my taste. I let it smolder on anyway to enjoy the aroma, hoping the neighbor doesn’t think I’m nuts for waving a cigar butt under my nose instead of just smoking it. Corojo is good stuff.

CasaFernandez4

Conclusion

The Casa Fernandez robusto is a fine smoke, but it loses some of its finesse in the home stretch. It’s similar to but more complex than its sister blend Particulares, but it’s also slightly more expensive. Ringing in at around 8 USD per stick, it’s not over the top for a “super premium” smoke, but I’d think twice before picking the Fernandez over Particulares.

Final Score: 87

Other Thoughts

Brian finds the Torpedo to be boxworthy for the Stogie Review

Rob digs the robusto but finds the price discouraging for PuffingCigars.com

Particulares Robusto

Particulares

My original intention in trying more cigars from Tabacalera Tropical was to find a less expensive but comparable alternative to the Nicaraguan puros that I smoke on a regular basis.  The name Aganorsa kept popping up, and I thought that by following the trail of that grower’s tobacco I might find cigars of a similar style, possibly at a lesser price.

Since cigar makers like Pepin Garcia, Dion Giolito, and Ernesto Padilla have all at one time or another used Aganorsa leaf in their blends, I expected that Tropical’s blends would at least have a passing resemblance to smokes like DPG’s Cuban Classic, Illusione, etc.  Their JFR cigar certainly does.

I was a little disappointed to find that Lempira Fuerte and Condega didn’t live up to my expectations, though I still thought Condega was a very good blend. Particulares, on the other hand, is a great cigar, and it is the first in the series so far to really taste like it’s in the same category as the Big Nicaraguans I have been using as a benchmark.

Particulares is an old Cuban brand name (as well as a frontmark for the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey “A” size) but the name was revived by Tropical as one of their first brands.  (Their very first brand was Solo Aromas, followed by Particulares, Cacique, and Maya.) And even though this appears to be the only formulation available it is listed with its royal appellation “Reserva Privada” in some online catalogs.

Not surprisingly, the Particulares (Reserva Privada) is a Nicaraguan puro. The wrapper is a Corojo leaf from 2006. Four sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Churchill – 7 x 48

Construction Notes

Particulares2I didn’t notice it immediately but it turns out these sticks have pig-tail caps. The tail is curled and pressed down into the head so it just looks like a small swirl. It can be easily prised up with a fingernail, though admittedly there isn’t much point. The rest of the head is wound perfectly into a fine triple cap. The wrapper is somewhat rough but consistent in color, a dark colorado maduro. The band features a lock-and-key motif that “locks” at the point where the band ends meet — a clever design, I think.

The draw is good and the  burn is slow and even. The ash flakes slightly, but not enough to matter. Overall excellent construction.Particulares3

Tasting Notes

The Particulares robusto starts up with a rich hickory-like aroma that is immediately recognizable. This is what I’ve been looking for. From the first puff this cigar tastes more like an Illusione or Padilla than the Lempira Fuerte or the Condega Corojo.  The flavor is a little charred, but not in the way that the Lempira was. The flavor is closer to grilled meat with some maple syrup-like sweetness.

The middle section continues in this vein but softens up a bit — it’s smooth with some fruity notes, almost brandy-like at times. It reminds me of the JFR cigar, but smoother and more refined.

Particulares4

The last third is spicier but still sweet. The finish lengthens, but it doesn’t settle in for the night like some cigars do after the mid-point. It stays clean and crisp and leaves in a reasonable amount of time, like a good guest.  The aftertaste gets a little tarry at the band, but by that time this cigar has said its piece.

Conclusion

The Particulares robusto is a tasty smoke that finally delivers on the flavor I was expecting from Tropical – Aganorsa.  The only hitch is that it isn’t much less expensive than Illusione or Padilla or others in that class. Prices range from 6 to 7 USD.  That’s not too much to ask for a cigar of this caliber, but I was hoping to tap a secret source of Nicaragua’s finest and save myself a bundle. But I really have no legitimate reason to be disappointed — it’s still a great smoke at a reasonable price.

Particulares5Final Score: 90

Condega Corojo 1999 Toro

Condega

Next up in this series of cigars from Tabacalera Tropical (aka Casa Fernandez, aka Aganorsa) is the Condega Corojo 1999 (2006 Series.) For more information about Tabacalera Tropical and Aganorsa, see last week’s review of the Lempira Fuerte.

Since Condega is the least well known region of Nicaragua’s three primary growing regions, it’s nice to see it get some name recognition. The Condega Corojo is not only a Nicaraguan puro, it’s a Nicaraguan Corojo puro — a cigar composed entirely of corojo leaf from Condega, Jalapa, and Esteli, Nicaragua.

From what I hear, Condega has appeared in more than one formulation, but the Corojo 1999 was unveiled sometime in 2004. The version that I smoked for this review was the 2006 series.

For a long time I associated the term “corojo” with power — maybe that came from smoking Camacho’s Corojo blend — but the Condega cigar sets the record straight once and for all. Corojo is after all just a black tobacco varietal; a cigar primarily composed of corojo ligero is going to be a powerhouse. A more balanced blend of corojo volado and seco leaves will be a lighter cigar, which is actually what Condega is — a medium bodied cigar with fairly mild strength.

Condega “Cuban Seed Corojo 1999″ is available in four sizes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Churchill – 7 x 50

Condega2

Construction Notes

The Condega Corojo Toro is a nice looking stick, but I have to join the growing chorus of complaint about foot bands. If a company wants to use them, fine, but make sure they are applied in such a way that they can be easily removed or slipped off. These cigars have delicate wrappers, and both samples cracked when I removed the foot band. Once I got over that initial irritation, I really liked the look of this cigar. The wrapper is smooth and attractive, similar to Connecticut shade but darker and thinner. The triple cap is attractive, though it also cracked slightly when I cut the stick prior to smoking. Fortunately the crack didn’t grow beyond that, but there’s no doubt that this is a very finicky wrapper leaf. The draw was fine on both samples; the burn was even and the ash was solid.

Overall excellent construction. (Incidentally, reviews of this cigar have in the past zeroed in on faulty construction. Evidently the factory is employing better quality control these days.)

Tasting Notes

I think this might be the lightest Nicaraguan puro I’ve ever smoked — the smoke texture is medium-bodied, or becomes that way eventually, but this cigar has only the slightest kick to it. It starts out mild and smooth with an acidic twang typical of Nicaraguan cigars. There is caramel on the nose and a touch of cocoa on the palate.

The middle section of the cigar showcases a stellar aroma — soft woody spices that remind me of Pepin Garcia’s El Centurion cigar. The underlying flavor is toasty with a hint of leather, but the aroma is where the action is. This is a sweetheart of a cigar.

The last third gets a little more serious, but not by much. The acidic accent becomes more pronounced, accompanied by a hint of black pepper and some sweetness on the front palate. The body of the cigar peaks at about a medium, but this cigar never really flexes much muscle at all. This toro is all about finesse, not power.

Conclusion

The Condega Corojo 1999 shares many of the nuances of Don Pepin Garcia’s cigars, but none of the strength. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your preferences. While the overall experience is pretty mellow, the aroma is quite dramatic: mild to medium bodied smokers will enjoy this cigar a lot and others may find it a pleasant morning or mid-day smoke. Five to six dollars is a reasonable hit for this stick, but it is a little hard to find. If your local tobacconist carries Tropical products, definitely give it a shot.

Condega3

Final Score: 89

Lempira Fuerte Robusto

Lempira

When Pedro Martin stepped off his flight from Puerto Rico into the -17 degree cold of a Detroit winter he knew it was time to head south again. Soon after leaving Cuba in 1961 Martin found work with a business associate in Detroit, but it wasn’t long before he planted roots in Miami, working for various tobacco outfits until he finally started Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

One of the first cigar shops I patronized as a neophyte stogie chomper was a small discount cigarette shop that had a tiny humidor. I knew next to nothing about cigars, but I grew fond of a cigar they sold called Maya. It turns out that this is an old Tropical Tobacco blend. Later on I found a cheap smoke called V Centennial that I enjoyed as well (even though one bundle arrived with a bonus lesson in tobacco beetle containment.) Also a Tropical cigar, and a good one.

Since then I’ve enjoyed many of Tropical’s blends, as well as many of the other cigars that are made with Aganorsa leaf, so I thought I’d go straight to the source and survey the Tropical product line.  But first a little more about Aganorsa.

AGANORSA and Tabacalera Tropical

When the Sandinista government came to power in Nicaragua, they began the familiar and disturbing process of nationalizing private industry, including tobacco growing and processing. The Cuban government traded assistance in the form of native Cuban seed and expertise in exchange for foodstuffs and other items difficult to acquire under the U.S. embargo. At that time the tobacco industry was known as TAINSA and operated in many of the areas where Nicaragua’s best tobacco is grown. Unfortunately these were also areas beset by political unrest and violence.

Around the same time, Eduardo Fernandez and his brother built and presided over one of the largest fast food chains in Europe, a giant called Telepizza. Starting from a single pizza joint in Madrid, the company became the second largest fast food chain in Spain (after McDonalds), and then spread to other countries. When he sold his share in that company in the late 90′s, the Sandinistas were gone and Fernandez was in an excellent position to acquire some of these old TAINSA fields and start a new venture with Aganorsa.

Fernandez brought in agricultural and fermentation experts from Cuba to help get his project started. Eventually he would also acquire Tropical Tobacco from Pedro Martin, and with it another valuable asset — Pedro Martin himself. The result was an enormous bank of tobacco expertise, rich fields in Esteli and Jalapa, and old-fashioned Cuban methods of processing and rolling cigars. Tropical Tobacco later became Tabacalera Tropical, which is now subsumed by Casa Fernandez and is part of the Aganorsa Group as a whole. (The precise business affiliations are hard to pin down, but I think that’s how it goes.)

Aganorsa leaf is praised and highly sought after by makers of full bodied, Cuban style cigars — some of Aganorsa’s best known customers include El Rey de Los Habanos, Padilla, and Illusione. Though each of these cigar makers has a distinctive style, the similarity is unmistakeable. It’s Aganorsa.

Lempira

The lempira is the currency of Honduras, so naturally the Lempira cigar is entirely Nicaraguan. The discrepancy is probably due to the fact that this cigar has changed composition over the years. It’s one of the oldest brand names in the Tropical catalog, blended by Pedro Martin not long after he first formed Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

This incarnation of the Lempira is still blended by Pedro Martin, but it’s a slightly heftier blend that was introduced in 2004 as the Lempira Fuerte. The robustos I smoked for this review were from the 2006 vintage.

Lempira2

Construction Notes

This is a seriously oily cigar. The maduro wrapper on the Lempira Fuerte is a very dark brown that verges on black near the seams. It’s quite striking. The roll is solid, but the cap exhibits none of the Cuban “finesse” that I was sort of expecting. It’s functional and applied well, but it’s none too pretty. Shearing off the cap I found the draw to be just right. And while the burn is a little erratic the ash is solid and doesn’t flake. I can also attest to this robusto’s durability: I accidentally dropped it in the sand while reaching for the ashtray and the only damage it sustained was to the ash (hence no first-inch ash pic.)

Overall very good construction.

Tasting notes

From the first puff I realized this cigar was going to be one of those very charry tasting maduros — the aroma is bittersweet and woodsy, with a flavor that graduates from fairly mild to rather strong at the smoke’s conclusion. The flavor is somewhat nondescript at first — a little earth, sweet chalk maybe, with a dry finish. The body of this cigar is also lighter than I expected, but it does eventually ramp it up to about a medium.

The middle section features dark roasted coffee — Vienna roast, verging on burnt — with peppery spice on the upper palate. I don’t retrohale most cigars, but this one gains entrance into my sinuses anyway. Intentional retrohaling would probably not be advised with this cigar. The flavors are increasingly bitter on the palate and the sweetness from the wrapper has a hard time maintaining the balance.

By the last section this cigar starts tasting more like a charcoal briquette than anything else. At times I thought I detected lighter fluid, but I think that was my imagination. There is a rich meaty aroma that I did enjoy, but it is completely overpowered by the bitter char taste up front. I had a hard time finishing this one.

Lempira3

Final Score: 79

Conclusion

The Lempira Fuerte isn’t a bad cigar, but the flavors here are a little too one-dimensional and bitter for me. I can see how someone who likes the dark bitter semi-sweet flavors of some maduro cigars might get a bang out of this one, but for me it was just too burnt tasting. It scores very well on construction and appearance, however. It’s just not for me.

Up next in this series of Tabacalera Tropical reviews: Condega 2006.


JFR – “Just For Retailers” Corona Gorda

jfr.jpg

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.

-cigarfan