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

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Puros Huerfanos 52X

I recently smoked a cigar from Drew Estates that was so surprisingly bad that I had to go out and buy a few more just to ensure that my first impression wasn’t a sign of premature senility.  (Or maybe the fact that I went out and bought more is the sign itself.)

That review has been put on hold until my senses recover from my flirtation with disaster.  In the meantime, I thought I’d give Drew Estates another opportunity with Puros Huerfanos, a Famous Smoke exclusive which is described as an “ultra premium first overrun.” I’m not sure if that description is internally consistent, but the price was right on a sampler pack so I snapped up a few.

The story on these cigars is that they were somehow “orphaned,” as if they were left by a skittish teenager at the convent door. I’m not sure if this story is meant to inspire pity or suspicion. Maybe both.

These “ultra premiums” are available in four sizes — robusto, toro, corona, and belicoso — and are a blend of Brazilian, Dominican and Nicaraguan long leaf tobaccos in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. Sometimes I wonder if a reputable cigar maker could wrap sawdust and carpet trimmings in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and get away with it. There seems to be no better way to dress up a cigar than with a golden buttery shade wrapper. (For the record, the very attractive PH 52X is entirely free of sawdust and carpet fibers.)

Construction Notes

Pro: In addition to its general aesthetic appeal, the Puros Huerfanos 52X is a well rolled cigar. All of the samples I’ve smoked so far have exhibited a fine draw and an even burn, though some of them seem to burn rather quickly.

Con: The ash is a little crumbly and they burn a little hot in the last third.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

The opening notes of the Puros Huerfanos 52 are dry and papery with an earthy aftertaste. Dirt might be an acquired taste, but I’ve come across some wonderfully earthy smokes in my time. Combining those flavors with paper and tannin might not suit everyone though, I admit.

In any case, the earthiness is quickly replaced by a smooth nutty flavor. The smoke texture is creamy and the strength is mild enough that this cigar could make decent breakfast material. The middle section of the stick is less tannic and sweeter. The aroma is typical of good Connecticut shade wrapper — sweet and floral, with some woody characteristics. The finish lengthens and the dry aftertaste lingers.

There isn’t much of a transition into the last third, as there rarely is with mild cigars. The flavors seem to settle on dry wood with a sweet floral component, balanced by a slightly dry bitterness on the tongue. My only concern is that the smoke gets too warm in the last lap. Smoking this cigar past the band is not recommended, or in my case, even possible.

Conclusion

Right now it looks like the robustos are selling for around 70 USD per box of 25, and the belicosos for around 80. That’s a reasonable price for this smoke. It’s well made, tastes okay (if dry and a bit greenish are okay), and it’s relatively cheap. It won’t knock your socks off, but if you’re in the market for a mild morning smoke it might be worth a shot.

If you can, try a few before you buy a box.

Final Score: 84

Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta No. 7

Joya de Nicaragua is the oldest cigar maker in Nicaragua, founded long before the country became known as the premier tobacco-growing region in Central America.  In recent years the brand has gained a following among fans of heavy-duty, big-boned Nicaraguan puros (like the brawny Antaño 1970) but that isn’t all they do. Despite the prominence of their ligero-laden sluggers, Joya de Nicaragua still produces lighter bodied fare for those of us who appreciate the subtle things in life.

The Cabinetta is similar to Joya’s much milder and more subtle Celebracion. The Cabinetta also uses a criollo-wrapper, in part, but its appearance is clearly distinct from the Celebracion.

The Cabinetta features two wrappers — the primary leaf is an Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper that runs the length of the cigar; the much darker secondary leaf, a Nicaraguan Criollo, envelops the head of the cigar only. The theory, at least according to the company press release, is that the criollo adds a spicy flavor on the tongue to the overall smooth and creamy Connecticut shade character of the cigar. The binder and filler leaves are from the Jalapa region of Nicaragua. Four sizes are currently available (in slide lid boxes, ergo Cabinetta):

  • Cabinetta No. 2 – 6 x 54
  • Cabinetta No. 4 – 5 x 52
  • Cabinetta No. 7 – 6 x 50
  • Cabinetta No. 11 – 5 1/4 x 46

I have to admit that I initially had the same benign suspicion of the Cabinetta that I have of other “dos capas” cigars. Is this a gimmick? Is it an aesthetic flourish designed more for visual appeal than flavor? Possibly.

On the other hand, I thought, maybe there’s a way to resolve this suspicion by putting it to the test. So with my trusty exacto knife and a steady hand (don’t try this at home, kids) I carefully removed the dark criollo leaf from the head of one of my Cabinettas. It wasn’t a perfect job, but the criollo peeled away nicely, leaving the blond shade wrapper with only a few scratches. Since this particular cigar was smoked in a modified state I didn’t factor it into my review, but in the Conclusion below I will tell you if my suspicions about the criollo cap were confirmed.

Construction Notes

The Cabinetta toro has a thin claro shade wrapper that reveals the bumpiness of the binder beneath. The color and consistency is typical of Connecticut shade leaf, and the contrast provided by the maduro-colored criollo is a nice touch. It gives a first impression that the cigar has a cedar sheath, which of course it does not.

The criollo end of the cigar (the head) is rough by comparison to the silky Connecticut shade, but the cap is formed well and the cigar draws beautifully. The roll is solid and it burns cool and evenly.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta is a mild to medium bodied cigar with the best of two worlds — it incorporates the creamy qualities of Connecticut shade while stealing a few savory flavors from the Nicaraguan spice cabinet.

The first third is mild and creamy, with an acidic accent and some mild spice. Red bell pepper maybe. The aroma is hay-like, sweet with some roasted nuts, and the finish is slightly dry.

The middle section unveils a nice surprise — cocoa. The prominently woody flavor is no surprise, but I can’t think of the last time I got cocoa from a shade wrapped cigar. The aroma is a tad sweeter in the middle third, with a touch of cedar. The smoke texture is creamy smooth.

In the last section the cocoa strengthens a bit, edging into milk chocolate. The aroma is less sweet at this point and more nutty, but aside from that there isn’t too much flavor transition here. The aftertaste gets a little dirty as the ash approaches the criollo/band line.

Conclusion

The idea behind the dark criollo wrapping around the head of the cigar is that the spicier flavor of this Nicaraguan tobacco will accentuate the underlying creaminess of the Ecuadorian Connecticut. I was sceptical of this at first, but I found by removing the criollo and comparing the naked Cabinetta with the standard issue cigar that there is in fact a difference in flavor. Stripped its little skirt of Nicaraguan criollo, the Cabinetta loses a lot of its distinction — in essense, it’s just another decent mild Connecticut.  The flavor is primarily of sweet hay with a dry finish.  It’s still quite good, for a mild cigar, but not all that interesting.

The criollo adds visual appeal, but it does much more, even though it isn’t part of the burning mixture. It really does add flavor to the cigar — in fact, the cocoa element that I thought was so unusual is coming from this little scrap of leaf and nowhere else!

Verdict: Not a gimmick.

If you’re in the mood for a mild smoke with some Nicaraguan flair, the Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta will set you back only seven dollars or so. Give it a shot. Leave the criollo ON.

Final Score: 88

Oliva Connecticut Reserve Robusto

I know a guy who smokes Flor de Oliva Gold and only Flor de Oliva Gold. No matter how I try, the guy will not give up his FOGs. He’ll gladly accept a cigar from me, say an Ashton Cabinet (he’s a good man, he deserves it) and when he’s done he’ll say, “Yeah, that was a good cigar.” And then he’ll pull a Flor de Oliva Gold from his pocket and grin at me as he lights it up.

The Oliva Cigar Company has been in the forefront of the industry for the past couple of years, introducing its smash hit, the Serie V, and experiencing more growth than would be expected during a global recession. Part of their success lies in providing quality cigars at a reasonable price; but part of it also lies in innovation and reaching out to new smokers.

So in 2008 the company took a walk on the mild side and began development of a  new cigar that would appeal to newer smokers and fans of milder-bodied smokes. Up to this point, Oliva had no Connecticut-shade blends in its premium portfolio — broadleaf, yes, but not shade.

One other difficulty had to be surmounted: Oliva works with primarily Nicaraguan leaf. Nicaragua is known for full-bodied, full-flavored, powerhouse tobacco — pick up an Oliva Serie V and you’ll see what I’m talking about. For a milder bodied cigar, the Olivas would have to leave the ligero out of the mix and still come up with a tasty blend using viso and seco leaves only.

In early 2009 the Oliva Connecticut Reserve, Oliva’s only boxed cigar with a Connecticut shade wrapper, was finally ready for release. The wrapper is Connecticut shade grown in Ecuador, and the binder and filler are Nicaraguan. Five sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Double Corona – 7 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Lonsdale – 6 1/2 x 44

Construction Notes

The Oliva Connecticut Reserve is a debonair cigar with a creamy golden-brown wrapper that has a yellowish cast to it. There is a rare shade wrapper called amarillo, (Spanish for yellow) and while this Ecuadorian Connecticut is not quite that yellow, it is reminiscent of that variety.

This robusto is light in the hand, but it has a firm roll which results in a slow burn. The cap is not an aesthetic marvel, but it is functional and clips easily. One of the great things about Connecticut Shade is how well it burns, and the Oliva Connecticut is no exception, burning level-straight and building a solid dirty-gray ash.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

Oliva’s Connecticut Reserve is a little bolder than many other mild Connecticut Shade cigars in the same class — it’s still smooth and aromatic, as you would expect, but the Nicaraguan filler gives it a zing that other (usually Dominican) shade smokes don’t have. It doesn’t seem quite as nutty either, though that familiar roasty flavor is still in evidence.

The latter half of this stick is woody and has a much longer finish that I would expect from a mild-to-medium shade blend. The smoke texture is still creamy though, with a salty note that blends well with the other seasonings. The aroma is sweet and nutty. The concluding inch, just into the band area, is woody with more cracked pepper and a touch of char.

Conclusion

This is an unusual cigar — it’s not quite mild enough to recommend to a confirmed Macanudo smoker, and yet it has enough flavor to interest some medium-to-full body cigar fans (especially as a morning smoke.)  It might serve well as a transition cigar for newer smokers who are ready to move on from the lightweights to bigger flavors. The only caveat here is that it does have a lengthy finish and aftertaste — it’s nothing to compare to most medium-full cigars, but it’s more than some mild cigar smokers might like.

The going rate for the Oliva Connecticut is 5 USD retail. This cigar is worthy of that based on its excellent construction alone, but I still don’t think I’ll be able to convince my friend to switch out his Flor de Olivas for the Connecticut Reserve.  Maybe I can interest him in doing a comparison review. I’m sure it will be short and go something like this: “Yeah, that cigar is pretty good, but I can buy two of these for the same price.” And then he’ll pull a Flor de Oliva Gold from his shirt pocket. And I won’t argue with him.

Final Score: 87

Other Reviews of Note

Walt digs the Robusto for the Stogie Review

Barry gives the Toro a 90 for A Cigar Smoker’s Journal

Richard Bui approves of the Toro for Cigar Inspector

The Stogie Guys take on the Lonsdale

The Toasted Foot recommends the Robusto for all smokers, regardless of strength preference

Chateau Real Lord Tennyson

ChateauReal

Once upon a time I smoked an ACID Cigar called “Extraordinary Larry,” and that was the beginning and the end of my dangerous liaison with Drew Estate cigars. It wasn’t such a bad cigar, for what it was, but I knew immediately that “infused” cigars were definitely not for me.

A few years passed and I saw an ad in one of the cigar mags for Drew Estate’s new “Natural” blend. But when I saw the Drew Estate  logo I had a strange kind of synesthetic reaction and could taste the ACID welling up in my mouth. For relief, I turned the page.

And then I received the Summer issue of Cigar Magazine in the mail the other day. I was sitting in the smallest room of my house, where I am wont to read cigar magazines and such, and discovered a nicely written article about Jonathan Drew and the other folks who run Drew Estate. I passed over it, whistling past the graveyard, and read a couple other things. But something caught my eye. A sidebar page had a really interesting story about a bonchero in the Drew Estate factory whose arms were blown off in a pyrotechnics accident. Sad to say, this is what drew me in (so to speak) to the rest of the article, and then I remembered that I was given a Chateau Real cigar a few months ago. I thought it might  be time to try it.

For the history of Drew Estate, I recommend giving the Cigar Magazine article a once over. In brief: Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel started selling cigars from a 16 square foot cart in the World Trade Center in 1995, in the middle of the cigar boom. It wasn’t easy to acquire quality cigars during the boom, so they started selling a house brand made by a local Dominican roller, calling it La Vieja Habana. Eventually the boom went bust and the company withered. Drew moved to Nicaragua and remade the company from scratch, inventing ACID cigars along the way. By 2007, Steve Saka was on board as company president and a new 96,000 square foot factory was open for business in Esteli. Around the same time, the company was about to introduce two new blends that would get plenty of attention: the Liga Privada No. 9 and the Chateau Real.

ChateauReal2

Construction Notes

This 7 x 50 double corona is called “Lord Tennyson” for reasons I cannot divine. Maybe it’s the Tennyson quote about there not being any good cigars in Venice and his having to leave in disgust? That would not be an auspicious way to name a cigar, but I can’t think of any other likely reason.

The wrapper on this cigar is a smooth even colored claro. Apparently the first run of this line turned out blotchy because the Mexican binder was showing through the Ecuadorian Connecticut — they fixed it by choosing a slightly darker shade of wrapper.  (And on the subject of Mexican leaf… it’s interesting that this detail is often left out in the promo material. The reality is that Mexican leaf has a place in cigar blending, but its reputation is wanting. Unfortunately the result has been a wholesale discounting of the entire country’s tobacco production.) The filler is a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend.

The single cap is clean and attractive. The roll is solid, but the cigar feels light in the hand. The draw has more resistance than I like, but it isn’t problematic, and the burn is slow and almost perfectly even. The ash is firm and holds well.  Overall this cigar has excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The pre-light flavor is grassy and hay-like, but once lit the Lord Tennyson offers plenty of traditional Connecticut Shade appeal: the first third is toasty with a touch of roasted nuts. The gently floral aroma is in balance with the flavors on the palate. The only unusual characteristic is a smattering of black pepper on the back of the tongue. ChateauReal3

The middle section is earthier and tastes a little sweeter than the first third. The smoke texture takes on a little more body and builds to about a medium, but remains creamy smooth and light in nicotine. This would be a morning or mid-day cigar for most smokers.

The last third presents some citric notes and gets a little dusty (that would be earthy and dry) but is otherwise still mild and smooth. Some very light tannins show up at the end, but not enough to ever get bitter.

Conclusion

The Chateau Real Lord Tennyson is a stately smoke that most fans of mild Connecticut Shade will enjoy. (Macanudo lovers take note.) There are no dramatic transitions and not much complexity, but those are hard to come by in mild bodied cigars anyway. The construction is damn near perfect, allowing the smoker to puff away and sip his or her latte with the Woe Street Journal worry-free.  The price is not bad either: around 6 or 7 US greenbacks per stick.

Final Score: 85

~cigarfan

Tabacos Baez Monarcas

Baez is a small town in the Villa Clara province of Cuba where in 1950 our hero José “Don Pepín” Garcia was born, presumably with chaveta in hand.  (The first infant ever to cut his own umbilical cord!) Tabacos Baez, a newish blend from Tabacalera Cubana, is named for that town.

Of course, Tatuaje’s Cabaiguan was also named for Pepin’s hometown. So was Cigar King’s Sancti Spiritus.

baezI’m sure if we were to scry deeply enough into the crystal ball of Pepinolatry that some clarity could be found — maybe in the fact that the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus are contiguous and were at one time two separate parts of one province called Las Villas, and Cabaiguan is a city within Sancti Spiritus. Or perhaps we’d see that Pepin is a quasi-religious figure in these lands and thus his birthplace is claimed by competing bands of disciples  – or we could just forget the magic carpet ride and smoke a cigar.

The Tabacos Baez brand name was at one time owned by Pete Johnson’s Havana Cellars, at which time they were the best of the student-rolled cigars coming out of Pepin’s factory.  In a Cigarcyclopedia.com article from July 2007, Pete said:

Tabacos Baez is one of those things we use for factory seconds or student-rolled cigars. We use that brand name for cigars that Pepin has trained people on. If [a batch of student-made] cigars seems good to me, we pack it up as Tabacos Baez. It’s gained a little cult following, since people found out that they are student-rolled cigars and are half the price. It’s made from similar leaves [as Tatuaje]; if a roller knows how to blend them properly, they’re pretty good.

The Tabacos Baez name appears to have passed back to El Rey de Los Habanos, and from the looks of things they are no longer student products. At around 7 or 8 USD retail they aren’t “half the price” either.

There appear to be three sizes available at the moment:

  • Monarcas (toro) – 6.5 x 52
  • Favoritas (belicoso) – 5.5 x 52
  • Robusto – 5 x 50

Some sites state that the wrapper used here is Connecticut Shade, others Ecuadorian Connecticut. I’m inclined to think that it is Ecuadorian Connecticut from the way that the cigar performs — it has that creamy, slightly salty flavor that I usually get from ECCT, and with its wide, almost parallel, veins it looks like Ecuadorian leaf.  It’s also a little darker than typical shade tobacco.

The balance of the tobaccos in this cigar are Nicaraguan, as you’d expect from Don Pepín.

baez2

Construction Notes

This is a stout and well packed cigar that scored perfectly in terms of appearance and roll. The wrapper is a smooth and oily golden brown and the triple cap is a work of art. A gorgeous stick.

The draw is good, but a couple cracks in the wrapper resulted in thin smoke volume at times. The cracks were small and near the foot, so I burned through them in short order. The burn was a little erratic at first, threatening to tunnel (which it did not) and it required a couple of corrections. After the first third these problems unnaccountably disappeared and the stick behaved perfectly.

Tasting Notes

The first half-inch of the Baez Monarca is hallmark Pepin — an aggressive peppery bite, accompanied by a slightly greenish tasting tannin. The wrapper contributes a smooth buttery element — at this point it’s reminiscent of the 601 Connect, also blended by Pepín. But soon the bite subsides and the flavor slides into mild cocoa. The aroma becomes more pronounced, somewhat floral and slightly caramel-like, almost like a mild corojo.

The middle section is quite mild in flavor while remaining a little tannic. The smoke texture is medium in body, mild in strength, and short on action. There are lightly spiced woody flavors here, but unless smooth and uninteresting is your thing you might want to get a book.

The last section returns with the black pepper that kicked things off, though not as intense and less tannic, and a dry finish that begs for a liquid refreshment.

This blend definitely goes through some changes, but they aren’t dramatic ones. The first inch of this cigar reminded me of EO’s 601 Connect — a relatively robust Pepin creation with a Connecticut wrapper — but the rest of this Tabacos Baez reminded me of a knockoff Cabaiguan. The flavors were smooth and familiar, but not as refined –or as interesting – as the Cabaiguan. (It even had some of the construction issues I’ve experienced with Cabaiguan.)

Overall, this is an above average smoke that just about anyone will enjoy. But for the same price (around $7 a stick) or only slightly more, you could be smoking a Cabaiguan Coronas Extra (about $8 each). If that’s the style of cigar you enjoy, as indeed I do, I recommend you compare and invest accordingly.

Final Score: 87

baez3

Other Points of View

The Baccy Bodhisattva meditates on the Monarcas

Lisa selects a Monarcas from Her Humidor

George meets the Quick Smoke deadline with a Monarcas for Stogie Guys

~cigarfan