Aging Report: Troya Clasico by Don Pepin Garcia

I am inclined to aestivate as an escape from the summer heat, and this year a blistering August drove me even deeper into hiding. The occasional cloud of smoke drifting across the yard was generated by California forest fires rather than my cigar hobby. With high temps ranging from 105 though the 110’s for most of the summer, I hid in the cellar like a frightened vampire. I did get out for some small cigars in the wee hours of the morning, but not until this weekend have I managed to fire up a full sized cigar. I thought I would celebrate the distant approach of autumn with an old friend: the Troya Clasico LXIII.

Troya Clasico 16a

This cigar is almost ten years old now, and as reported earlier, it has mellowed to the point of fading. I only have a few left, and time is running out for these once brilliant churchills. They are still stately in appearance — golden brown wrappers with impeccably crafted triple-wound heads — and time in storage does not seem to have affected them adversely. They still draw and burn perfectly, as I would expect any classic Pepin-made cigar would.

These were never powerhouse cigars — elegance and subtle complexity were their hallmark from the beginning, combined with a touch of Pepin’s trademark tannin that made the epithelia twang like a guitar string. That twang is just barely detectable now. In fact the flavor on the tongue is barely a reminder of what it once was. Lightly roasted nuts with a dusting of black pepper is about it. What remains is an amazing aroma.

At first there is toast and cedar. Slowly the cedar develops more complexity and sweetens into sandalwood. The smoke is buttery in texture and the aftertaste is clean, leaving a very mild aftertaste of wood and earth. In the mid-section there is some cocoa, which reminds me of the old Pepin cigars. Oh the old Red Label, the Sancti Spiritus, the original Padillas… As a tear is about to form in the corner of my left eye, I am shocked back into the present by something new — sugary sweetness, almost like cotton-candy sweetness. This lasts only a few moments though, and then the cedar machine roars back and rumbles full bore to the end zone.
Troya Clasico 16b

Maybe it was a month of near abstinence making the heart grow fonder, (smoking yard gars exclusively is a kind of abstinence, right?) but I really loved this cigar. It has lost some depth of flavor as it has weakened in strength, but the complexity of its aroma has increased by an equal measure. An extra helping of ligero might have helped it weather the years a little, but it’s still a masterpiece.

 

Hoyo by Hoyo de Monterrey Robusto

Hoyo de Monterrey is one of the original and now classic brands of pre-revolutionary Cuba. The brand was established in the 19th century and is in wide circulation to this day, in various blends, made either in Cuba or Honduras. The new Hoyo was inspired by a limited edition blend, the Hoyo Editión de Cumpleaños 150, which was created to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Hoyo de Monterrey.

Hoyo Robusto

The highlight of the new Hoyo is a shade grown Habano leaf grown in Esteli. It is an unusual wrapper, not only because Habano is rarely if ever grown under shade, but also because this leaf looks anything but shade grown. Tobacco is generally grown under shade to produce a light, creamy and consistent leaf. It’s the most flawless of cigar wrappers, but it is also less robust in flavor. This shade grown Habano, produced by the Plascencias especially for this cigar, is dark, oily, and spicy — pretty much the opposite of what I expect from a shade wrapper.

Under the hood, the blenders have utilized an aged Ecuadoran Sumatra binder and a sturdy  filler blend of Nicaraguan leaf from Esteli and Ometepe, plus a dose of Pennsylvania ligero.  Hoyo was created exclusively for brick-and-mortar retailers in four sizes:

  • Gigante – 6 x 60
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Robuso – 5 x 54
  • Rothschild – 4 1/2 x 50

Construction Notes

I’m not too enthusiastic about General’s recent trend toward wide rectangular bands, but at least this one is pretty (and easy to remove). It is not, however, prettier than the wrapper on the new Hoyo, which is gorgeous. It’s hard to believe this is a shade grown wrapper — it’s sleek, oily, and just this side of maduro in appearance. The Robusto is a solid parejo, though I noticed a couple had small dents that only the most fastidious of critics would notice.

A functional cap sits on a flat head. The draw is effortless while offering the proper amount of resistance, and the burn is slow and even.

Overall construction: Excellent

Hoyo Robusto 2

Tasting Notes

The Hoyo Robusto opens up sweet and woody on the nose and peppery on the palate. The aroma is a little bit fruity — dried fruit like cherries or raisins — but it also reminds me of smoky maple syrup, if there is such a thing. The smoke from a good barbecue sauce might make a good comparison. After an inch or so the pepper eases up, without disappearing altogether, and the syrupy flavor continues with some coffee-like accents. This is a full bodied cigar with a good punch, though the smoke texture is a bit heavier than its strength.

The finish is long and earthy towards the finale of the cigar. The basic components of the flavor and aroma have not changed — the smoke is still sweet and woody on the nose, and earthy on the palate. The pepper returns for a victory lap and gets doused with my  last sip of Guinness at the finish line.

Conclusion

The new Hoyo is an expressive cigar, and one that I think will appeal to adventurous maduro smokers. It’s not branded as a maduro — in fact it’s not a maduro — and it lacks the chocolate and coffee flavors that maduro smokers are accustomed to, but its predominating sweetness and dry peppery punch is a combination that fans of Nicaraguan maduros will probably enjoy. On my scorecard it gets knocked down a bit for harshness, but this blend was obviously built for strength and flavor over smoothness.

While the Hoyo is only available for now at your local B&M, the price makes it worth the trip: MSRP for the Robusto is around $6.50 USD and larger sizes are only about a buck more.

Hoyo Robusto 3

Final Score: 89

Nica Rustica by Drew Estate

Nica Rustica was released originally in 2013 in one size only — the “Brujito” — a corona gorda with a pig-tail cap and a flagged foot. Additional sizes followed, including a large belicoso called “Belly” (after the 1998 crime film starring rap icons Nas and DMX), and a 4.5 x 50 short robusto.

Nica Rustica

As befitting its name, the cigar celebrates Nicaragua, and Esteli in particular. The little figure of the “brujito” which adorns boxes and bands of Nica Rustica is a symbol of the city taken from a nearby petroglyph. I was lucky enough to find a descriptive anatomy of the brujito, which I at first took to be a child’s representation of Jonathan Drew. (I was of course relieved to learn that Jonathan does not have a cola de diablo.)

Also befitting its name, Nica Rustica is not a rico suave kind of stick. Rustic is the word. The Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is a rich and oily colorado maduro with veins that stand out like cellular structures in a stained microscope slide. Beneath this is a San Andres binder, and the beating heart of the cigar is, naturally, Nicaraguan filler, from both Esteli and Jalapa. The parejo sizes have pig-tail caps.

I have smoked this blend in the Belly and Short Robusto sizes, and while they are similar in style and substance, I much prefer the little guy when the thermometer is pushing 110. A subtle smoke this is not.

Construction Notes

One aspect of this cigar that is not rustic is the construction. The roll is solid — no rifts and valleys as I expected — and the draw is excellent. It burns slowly and generates billowing clouds of smoke. The ash is solid but a little bit flaky.

Overall construction: Excellent

Nica Rustica 2

Tasting Notes

The flavors here are rich and tasty, but not subtle or complex. The smoke is slightly sweet and the aroma initially reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle: a bit waxy, with an earthy or sulfuric edge. Cocoa eventually comes to the fore, vying with black pepper on the palate. The spiciness gives way after an inch or two and makes room for a pleasantly meaty flavor that takes the cigar the distance.

Conclusion

Nica Rustica is not overwhelming in terms of power, but it is quite rich and at times a bit harsh. While it might benefit from some aging, this seems in line with the character of the blend, so I wouldn’t wait too long. Don’t expect Danny Trejo to age into Andy Garcia, no matter how long you put him away. (And don’t try to put Danny away or…well, just don’t.)

Ranging from the $4-5 range for the short robusto to about $7 for the belicoso, Nica Rustica is an affordable cigar, especially from a manufacturer whose prices are increasing with demand.

Nica Rustica 3

Final Score: 86

 

 

CAO Pilon Robusto

Released in 2015, CAO’s Pilón cigar is named for an important part of the tobacco fermentation process. After tobacco leaves have been harvested and dried they are moved from the curing barn to undergo a “sweating” process. The tobacco hands are piled up and allowed to partially decompose. The tobacco in the pile (or pilón) heats up and goes through a complicated chemical transformation — the tobacco gives off ammonia and carbon dioxide, alkaloids like nicotine decrease, and the leaves start to develop the flavors and aromas that are typical of black tobacco. (More on the chemistry involved in this process can be found here.)

CAO Pilon

Pilónes in most modern factories are large quadrilateral bales.  For the Pilón, CAO is using an old Cuban technique in which hands of tobacco are carefully arranged in circular piles. The skeptic in me wants to ask: What’s the effective difference between a square pile and a round pile? A pile’s a pile, right?  My guess is that a smaller more manipulable pilon allows for more control over the keys to tobacco oxidation: heat, humidity, and air circulation. The piles must be periodically taken apart and reconstructed in order to control these elements, and perhaps a circular pilon gives the curador more control.

In any case, the developers of Pilón — CAO’s Rick Rodriguez and General Cigar’s Agustin Garcia — have been experimenting with this technique for several years, and if they say it makes a difference I will take their word for it.  The cigar itself is a Nicaraguan blend with an Ecuadorian Habano capa. The Pilón is made in Esteli, Nicaragua in three standard sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Corona –   5 1/2 x 44

Construction Notes

The Pilon robusto is a rustic-looking cigar with a slightly oily wrapper that is maduro in color and appearance. The cigar is firm in the hand and is finished with a round head and functional cap that takes a guillotine cut with no complaint. The draw is easy, and the burn is even and slow.

I tend to think of cigar bands as purely ornamental and of little concern, but the band on the Pilon is exceptional in one respect: it reports the blend composition. I have no use for gold leaf and intricate graphic artistry, but give me some information right on the cigar and you’ll get my vote every time.

Overall construction: Very good.

CAO Pilon 2

Tasting Notes

The Pilon starts out woody and very clean on the palate. It gradually develops some astringency and reveals typically Nicaraguan characteristics, but in the beginning it is fairly mild-mannered. The texture at this point is even a bit creamy.

An inch or so into the cigar and the woody aroma starts to take on a more coffee-like aroma, a nice medium roast rather than that undrinkable burnt stuff.  A cedary overtone is still present, accompanied by a hint of cinnamon. The coffee beans finally give way to a slightly sweet caramel note, until the spice takes over.

I found the last third of the cigar to be a bit harsh; the subtleties of the first third and the complex flavors of the middle section are completely swallowed up a sharp peppery spice, joined by char at the end. I thought I might have been smoking too fast, but on my second try I slowed my pace intentionally and encountered the same phenomenon. It isn’t overly potent, just a little pugnacious on the palate.

CAO Pilon 3

Conclusion

CAO’s Pilón is a surprisingly complex cigar for the price, which is around $4.50 a pop. It turns a bit grumpy in the last third, but this may even out with a little aging, or it may be intentional — I’ve met more than a few devotees of the mean-ass cigar, so maybe the Pilon was blended to end with a nice poke in the eye. I’ll be trying this in the other sizes to see if that makes a difference, and maybe putting a few away for a while. The first two-thirds are really exceptional for the price.

Final Score: 88

Rocky Patel Luxury Collection Sampler

The folks at Holt’s Cigar Company were kind enough to send me this Rocky Patel Sampler, and even though it did not widen my smoke-filled horizons in any considerable fashion, I am happy to repay the favor with a few honest words on some classic cigars. Okay, they’re not all classics, but I’d say the RP Decade and the Vintage 1990 have achieved that status by virtue of their quality and longevity.  Augmenting these are a Holt’s house brand — the Ocean Club;  one that I think might also be a house brand — the Velvet Edition; and my current goto proletarian workhorse — Renaissance.

RP Luxury Sampler

The Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 was first reviewed for this blog in 2006, so I thought it would be interesting to compare notes from ten years ago. The toro in the Luxury Sampler is a pressed cigar, maduro in shade with a slightly oily sheen. Unless the recipe has changed, this is a broadleaf wrapper grown in Honduras. Construction qualities are excellent across the board.  My tasting notes from this time around are “Cedar, chocolate and dried cherry. Medium body.” Ten years ago I wrote:

It’s a medium bodied smoke that I find extremely smooth up to the finish when it gets a bit heavier and the taste turns slightly tarry. The predominating flavors are wood and cherry. The broadleaf is very aromatic and worth the price of admission alone.

RP Vintage 1990

And it’s still true. Rocky churns out new blends every year, but the Vintage 1990 is still one of my favorites.

The Ocean Club is a Holt’s exclusive. With a colorado claro Nicaraguan wrapper, Mexican binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the DR, the Ocean Club is remarkably distinctive for a house blend.  Like the Vintage 1990 the toro comes in a pressed format and exhibits excellent construction.

RP Ocean Club

The cigar is well named — the salty character of the smoke calls the sea to mind. The primary flavor is earthy and vegetal, accented by a floral aroma. In the mid-section there is a minty taste that made me think there might be a touch of Cameroon in the mix, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is a refreshing and welcome addition to the mix of earth and salt.

RP Velvet

The Velvet Edition is presented in the round and features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper that is largely responsible for the creamy (velvety?) body of the cigar. It’s a mild to medium bodied cigar with a gentle demeanor. None of the filler tobaccos overwhelm the subtle wrapper aroma, which is a good thing. There is some light caramel and a hint of coffee that blends to create a latte sweetness. A nice morning smoke.

RP Decade

Decade is another classic that doesn’t require much of an introduction. The blend is undisclosed, but the star of the show is a dark chocolate colored Sumatra wrapper from Ecuador. This one is pressed and burns as beautifully as one could expect. The flavors are sweet and earthy, reminiscent of ye olde peat bog. The smoke is smooth with an acidic tang and offers up a rich aroma of coffee and cedar. I mostly agree with my 2009 review:

There are some cherry notes mingling with the char, and a bittersweet chocolate aftertaste…The center section features an acidic tang that I always associate with Nicaraguan tobacco… the chocolate and cocoa flavors remind me a lot of the Olde World Reserve… The aroma is sweet and woody. The last third continues along the same trajectory, rich and rife with bean flavors: chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.

I’m so happy I agree with myself, but I have to admit that I didn’t notice the cherry notes this time around.

The final entry in the Luxury Sampler is not a classic cigar exactly, but it might be the best deal around right now. The Renaissance, a reincarnation of the Edge Sumatra, has been a catalog centerfold for more than one company lately, and I, for one, am not complaining. It’s a stellar cigar for the asking price.

RP Rennaissance

I’ve been smoking the Renaissance for the past couple of years in the robusto and corona sizes, and the Toro performs equally well. My notes this time around include cinnamon and cedar on the nose, a crisp clean aftertaste, and a zingy bite on the tongue. Six years ago my thoughts on the robusto ran along similar lines:

…a piney aroma with fruity notes; the cherry that comes through reminds me a lot of the Decade. There is a touch of chocolate and a sweet spice — not pepper — that is easy on the palate.  The aftertaste is pleasant and mild… smooth and genteel with an excellent aroma and no bite.  The smoke is medium in body, with moderate nicotine.

I never thought I’d be tagging the Vintage 1990 or Decade as “bargain cigars,” but that’s what I’m doing, because the Rocky Patel Luxury Sampler is now only $29.95 at Holt’s. Three bucks a stick. That’s kind of nuts… but my kind of nuts. In addition to being a fantastic deal, this is the perfect sampler for a new smoker who wants an introduction to the Rocky Patel oeuvre. These are easy smoking cigars, at an even easier price.

Gurkhas 2015

Some Newish Gurkhas

The Gurkha Cigar Group can always be counted on to release new blends with eye-catching packaging, and with at least three new releases, 2015 was no exception.

First up, a Nicaraguan addition to their successful Cellar Reserve line — the Platinum Cellar Reserve. Next, the Cask Blend, which is presented with all the mystery typical of Gurkha: the blend is entirely “proprietary,” which means the provenance of the tobaccos is entirely undisclosed. And saving the best for last, the Heritage blend.

I smoked the Cellar Reserve Platinum in the “Hedonism” size, a 6 x 58 figurado with a neatly pasted pig-tail cap. The Platinum is a Nicaraguan/Dominican Criollo blend with a semi-glossy Brazilian maduro wrapper that contrasts nicely with a broad silver band that contains all the usual fine print gibberish: Batch Number, Blend Strength (98.0%, whatever that means), etc., all of which is merely for the sake of appearance. Nobody actually reads that stuff, aside from a few cigar-obsessed neurotics… right? The point is that it looks good. But how does it smoke?

Gurkha Platinum

Pretty well, actually. On the construction side, the Cellar Reserve Platinum draws well and burns evenly. It’s a woody cigar that draws on the strengths of Nicaraguan tobacco, if the dry pucker on the palate and the pepper on the nose are any indication. The wrapper contributes some coffee notes, and as the cigar settles it delivers roasted nuts. I found the “Hedonism” to be a bit harsh at times, but maybe my style of hedonism is wimpier than most. A good if not stellar smoke.

According to the band, the Cask Blend is “Only For the Gurkha Cigar Connoisseur.” The band also says that this is a pre-release sample and that the release date is classified. And then in the fine print it says, “Item: Released.” Man, I love this stuff. And there’s no information available about the blend, which makes my job even easier. So all I can do is light it up.

There appear to be only two sizes made, both large perfectos. The Cask Blend I smoked looks looks very similar to the “Hedonism” Platinum above, except for a slightly oilier wrapper and the absence of a pig-tail cap. It draws well and produces a huge volume of smoke. The wrapper is slightly reluctant to burn in sync with the rest of the cigar, resulting in an irregular and slightly troublesome burn. Otherwise it exhibits good construction values.

Gurkha Cask Blend

Gurkha advertises the Cask Blend as mild to medium in body, but I thought it was a bit heavier than that, at least in terms of smoke texture. It’s an earthy cigar with a good dose of pepper in the first stage. An oaky aroma gradually evolves into leather with a touch of cognac. There is a sweetness to the smoke which is very pleasant without being cloying. An enjoyable cigar, but you’ll probably want to ensure proper ventilation in your smoking environment.

The Gurkha Heritage is made in far more sizes than the other two, but all are large formats. The one I smoked was the 6 1/2 x 50 Toro, which is presented in a cedar sheath. The band is surprisingly reticent, with only a slightly mangled sentence about the history of the Gurkha name to its credit. At least the information is appropriate for a “Heritage” themed cigar. The wrapper on this cigar is an Ecuadorian rosado habano leaf, complemented by a Nicaraguan binder, and fillers from the DR (piloto cubano), Nicaragua, and Pennsylvania.

Gurkha Heritage

The Heritage boasts a colorado maduro wrapper with a slight sheen. The head and cap are neat and clean. The Toro has an easy draw, but the burn is a little uneven. The base flavor is earthy and the aroma is fairly complex: woody with some dried fruit. In the later stages the aroma becomes a bit more leathery.  I enjoyed this cigar quite a bit. If pressed to select the best of the three Gurkhas reviewed here, I would award the laurels to the Heritage.

All of these cigars are in the comfortably affordable $8-9 USD range, which is a little more reasonable than some of Gurkha’s other cigars. Just in case you’re not the Sultan of Brunei, that is.

 

 

Casa Fernandez Aniversario 2014

Casa Fernandez Anni 2014

I remember my first anniversary. My girlfriend surprised me with the announcement that we had been together for six weeks and it was time to celebrate. Then came the three-month anniversary. And the sixth. We didn’t make it to a year. I blame all the damn anniversaries. Well, not really… but it’s true. After a while Anniversaries can be a bit of a chore.

But not for cigar makers. It seems like nearly every manufacturer has a few Aniversarios in their portfolio these days, and Casa Fernandez is no exception.

As a brand name, Casa Fernandez is fairly young, but the company has old roots. The business that would become Casa Fernandez began as Tabacalera Tropical in the 1970’s. Eduardo Fernandez had already been operating Aganorsa for a few years when he purchased Tropical from Pedro Martin in 2002, but with Arsenio Ramos employed as a blender using Aganorsa tobaccos, the cigar maker emerged from the shadows of the shade cloth. So I think it’s safe to say that the anniversary this cigar celebrates is not so much a founding of a finished product as the beginning of an evolution.

The tobaccos used in the Casa Fernandez Aniversario are Aganorsa grown, including a Corojo 99 wrapper grown in Jalapa. After harvesting, the tobaccos were aged five years and the cigars were rolled in the small factory Fernandez opened in Miami in 2011. The 2014 release, a 6 1/4 x 52 parejo, was limited to 2000 boxes of ten. (The 2015 release was made in two sizes: a lancero and a toro size slightly larger than the 2014 parejo.)

Because this blend utilizes aged tobacco they may not have needed the bonus humidor time that I usually afford Casa Fernandez cigars, but they’ve been cooling their heels at 65% for almost a year anyway.

Construction Notes

The Casa Fernandez Aniversario is a handsomely appointed toro, complete with the super premium accoutrement: a tasteful white band, a silver anniversary band, and a parchment sleeve etched with the company logo. All it’s missing is a black tie.

The wrapper is a smooth milk-chocolate colorado claro with subtly dimpled veins. The head is perfectly symmetrical and topped with a clean flat cap. The cigar has a slight box press which has relaxed a bit after resting loose in the humidor. It draws well, burns evenly, and produces a nice volume of smoke. The ash is a solid light gray.

The only construction flaw I encountered is that the wrapper, despite its beauty, is somewhat fragile and has a tendency to split. Careful storage and optimal atmospheric conditions are recommended when lighting up.

Overall construction: Very good.

Casa Fernandez Anni 2015 b

Tasting Notes

Cocoa jumps out at the first puff and stays in the driver’s seat for the whole ride. Some sweetness enters on the palate, rendering caramel after an inch or so. Some woody notes are present in the first half of the cigar which veer into earthy territory in the second.

The smoke is smooth, a little dry, but never heavy. Some pepper shows up toward the end, but that’s about it for spice. This toro is very easy to smoke, but it lacks the development that I expect in a cigar of this magnitude.

Casa Fernandez Anni 2014 c

Conclusion

The CF Aniversario is definitely a super premium, upper echelon blend. It’s like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s day.  I would recommend this stick without reservation as a special occasion cigar for a novice smoker (assuming the construction holds up.)

Unfortunately, this blend lacks the complexity that veterans might expect in an Aniversario. (Compared with the Padron Anniversary blends, let’s say.) And of course there is the price. At $12.50 a shot it has some serious competition. All things considered, I still think it’s worth it.

Final Score: 92