Blue Label Robusto

blue-label

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

Some History

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

union-label

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

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

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

The Blue Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cigar

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

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

Only partial information is available about the blend:

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

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Construction Notes

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

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

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 88

bluelabel3

References

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

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

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

~cigarfan

Gran Habano 3 Siglos Gran Robusto

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Over the years Guillermo Rico has been a tobacco grower, a leaf broker, and an accomplished catador, or cigar taster, who reportedly can distinguish five different leaves in a single blend. He was born to a family of tobacco growers in Cubita, Columbia, and with his son George is currently the owner of GR Tabacaleras Unidas and the Gran Habano line of cigars. The Ricos have farms in several countries, including Columbia, Costa Rica, and most importantly Nicaragua.

The Ricos established their Danli, Honduras factory, “La Perla Hondureña” in 1996, where they produced cigars for private labels such as Alec Bradley. But with all the experience and knowledge at hand it was inevitable that they would soon turn out their own brands.

The Ricos take great pride in the blending and production of their cigars, starting with Habano and Corojo seeds and finishing with draw testing individual cigars for quality control. All of their cigars are bunched using the traditional “entubar” method and are finished with triple caps. These are truly beautiful cigars — I had to get a close up shot of the cap on the 3 Siglos above because it’s really a work of art.

The first three Gran Habano blends — the #1 Connecticut, the #3 Habano, and the #5 Corojo — were introduced in 2003 and gained ground quickly due to their very high quality to price point ratio. These are great cigars regardless of price, but affordability is always attractive. Following on this came the V.L . (Very Limited) line in 2005, and last year the 3 Siglos was finally unveiled.

The Tres Siglos cigars use three types of ligero from three different countries — Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Columbia (Cubita) — in its filler blend, bound up in a Nicaraguan Habano leaf and capped with a Nicaraguan Corojo Shade Grown wrapper. Cuban style cigars often have a flattened rather than a rounded cap, but this one is almost as level as the foot. The wrapper is deliciously oily and and the stick weighs heavily in the hand.

The Gran Robusto is an imposing and impressive looking cigar with a 54 ring gauge; at six inches long it’s really more of a toro size. Commercial vitolas have always piqued my curiosity — why gran robusto instead of toro? Why double corona rather than churchill? Why 3 Siglos and not 3 Ligeros? (I actually wrote Siglo III earlier and had to go back and correct it. Maybe there’s something subliminal going on here… ) But when it comes down to it, the cigar must speak for itself. Or smoke for itself. With my assistance, of course.

The broad flat cap invites a punch, though carefully shearing off the cap with a cutter might work in a pinch. A pre-light test draw reveals an easy pull — maybe too easy. There is no resistance at all. Checking the barrel for loose fill and soft spots returns a negative, so the frictionless draw appears to be by design.

I subjected the foot of this Gran Robusto to almost 30 seconds of the Blazer’s full-on torch blast until it could finally be weaned from the flame. This would seem to presage burn problems to come, but there were no major issues once it got going.

The initial flavor from the 3 Siglos is a little funky — it reminds me of the Gran Habano #5 with its musty earthiness for the first few pulls. Despite the airy draw this cigar produces nice clouds of medium-bodied smoke and burns very slowly. I budgeted an hour for this cigar but it demanded another 45 minutes after that. I’m glad I brought a book.

In addition to its unusual draw and burn, it leaves a streaky black and gray-brown ash. Very odd coloring. It’s flaky and a little messy, but the cigar burns so slowly that’s it’s nothing to worry about.

As the first musty shot fades into the background it is replaced with a leathery sweet aroma that is almost fruity at times — something like cherries. The smoke is smooth but by the mid-point I am also noticing its potency. This is not a heavy smoke, but it’s big — perhaps it is by virtue of its size that it packs the punch it does.

By the end of the cigar — which requires the peeling of two bands — the flavor is at its height of pepper and spice with a finish that has graduated from negligible to considerable. It isn’t a cigar with dramatic development, but there is enough complexity and idiosyncrasy here to keep my palate interested throughout the course of a very long smoke. And as a final epilogue I noticed it left a residual odor of graham cracker or gingerbread on my finger tips.

The Gran Habano 3 Siglos is in a class of its own and there’s only one way to tell if you’re going to like it — try it. The Gran Robusto is available for around 7 USD and for a great tasting cigar with good performance that lasts almost two hours, this is a pretty reasonable price. I’m not sure I’m ready to snap up a box — not in this size anyway — but I’ll certainly be picking up a few more 3 Siglos at the local shops.

-cigarfan