Partagas Ramon y Ramon

Partagas Ramon

I remember my first Partagas… a No. 10, if I recall. It was a smooth, mellow, mildly spicy cigar that tickled my virginal taste buds and left me a believer in the brand from that moment on.  Eventually I learned that the active ingredient in that blend is a Cameroon wrapper. For me, Partagas is Cameroon, and the Partagas Benji Menendez Master blend is the best of the lot. Okay, the Cuban Partagas is something else entirely, but the Partagas Black? No, man. I don’t know what that is, but to me it’s not a Partagas.

Cameroon wrappers came into popularity as a substitute for Cuban wrapper after the embargo was enacted in 1961. While many cigar manufacturers gave up in despair at the loss of Cuban tobacco, Stanford Newman (founder of the J. C. Newman Cigar Co. and maker of Cuesta Rey and Diamond Crown cigars) found that Cameroon wrappers might serve as a good alternative. Cameroon is certainly not identical to Cuban tobaccos, but it has a similar earthiness, plus an additional spiciness.

The Newmans and the Fuentes have done amazing things with Cameroon, but the folks at General Cigar have kept up with them. The Cameroon wrapper they are using for the Ramon y Ramon is a high priming, sungrown leaf cultivated in the Belita region by the Meerapfel family, who seem to have a monopoly on the choicest leaf in Africa.

The heart of the cigar is blended with a proprietary tobacco developed as a hybrid: agronomists crossed a delicate vintage strain with a more robust and disease-resistant variety to create the romantically named “PM01”.  Pair this with some Nicaraguan tobacco, hold it in place with a Dominican wrapper, and finish it off with that Belita Cameroon, and voila! — it’s a Partagas Ramon y Ramon.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 1/2 x 50
  • Maxim Grande – 6 x 52
  • Gigante – 6 x 60
  • Fabuloso – 7 x 54

Partagas Ramon 2

Construction Notes

Cameroon wrappers add tremendous flavor and complexity to a blend, but they are rarely pretty. They tend to be brittle, dry, and they don’t look terribly appetizing. This one is a case in point: the wrapper is rough and dusty looking, a pale yellowish brown, almost grayish. On the positive side, the wrapper is strong and so far I haven’t had one split on me.

The roll is solid and the head is finished in a rounded Cullman cap. The Ramon y Ramon draws very well, burns evenly at a moderate pace, and leaves a firm light-gray ash in its wake.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

The Ramon y Ramon opens with the leitmotif that recurs throughout this cigar: earthiness  with a minty tang. It’s not the same earthiness that you find in a Cuban cigar — it’s not as subtle, not as bready, and it’s spicier — but it’s vaguely similar. The spiciness takes the form of cedar scents, white pepper, and cinnamon on the nose.

In the mid-section of the cigar there are bittersweet chocolate notes, a little more pepper, and a continuing eucalyptic mintiness. The body of the smoke is about medium, with a strength to match.

The complex and alluring aroma of this cigar never lets up, so I’m willing to forgive the excessive tannins that sneak in at the end. Keep a drink handy to cure your pucker.

Partagas Ramon 4

Conclusion

The Partagas Ramon y Ramon has a Cuban-style earthiness at its core; it’s similar to the Toraño Cameroon in this respect, but it’s more complex. The aroma alone is worth the price of admission, which is around US $7.50. For the moment this cigar is a brick-and-mortar exclusive, but it’s well worth a trip to the shop. For me, it doesn’t quite beat out the Benji Mendendez, but it creeps up awfully close.

Final Score: 91

Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive

Herrera Esteli TAA

Several Drew Estate blends have put the spotlight on Connecticut Broadleaf, most notably the Liga Privada No. 9, but the Herrera Esteli TAA is the first cigar blended by Willy Herrera for Drew Estate to use a broadleaf wrapper.  (The original Herrera Esteli utilizes Ecuadorian Habano and the Norteño uses San Andres maduro.)

Before joining Drew Estate in 2011, Herrera was known for his work at El Titan de Bronze in  Miami, but he has also created blends for Ernesto Padilla, Nestor Miranda, La Palina, and others.

The TAA was designed as an exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America and was released at the TAA convention in April of this year.

Beneath the broadleaf wrapper is a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and the filler is a blend of the usual Nicaraguan suspects — Esteli (surprise!), Jalapa, and Condega. Only one size is in production, a 6 x 52 toro, and the cigar is sold in 12-count boxes. The cigar is made at the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is a little rough but it oozes oil and has every appearance of richness. The head of the cigar is rounded, perfectly symmetrical, and the cap is almost seamless. The roll is solid and the draw is firm but easy. The cigar burns evenly and leaves a solid, light gray ash. The rollers in La Gran Fabrica have clearly taken extra care with this one.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Herrera Esteli TAA 2

Tasting Notes

The TAA Exclusive takes broadleaf seriously, and it takes full advantage of the woody sweetness of this stellar leaf from the first puff. This is a very smooth smoking toro; it develops a little bit of spice in the last third, but up to that point it really focuses on the strengths of its broadleaf wrapper.

The cigar is earthy on the palate, but the aftertaste is quite mild. The mouthfeel is somewhat waxy — the earthiness on the tongue, sweet woody char on the nose, and the waxy texture combine to create an effect that reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle.

The cigar develops a little more body and picks up some spice and some coffee notes in the last third. It isn’t a particularly complex cigar and the flavor transitions are not dramatic; the flavors are focused and tend not to stray too much from the ones that it opens with.

Herrera esteli 3

Conclusion

The Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive is a broadleaf lover’s classic. It isn’t as bold as the Liga Privada No. 9, but it’s far more elegant than Nica Rustica. It’s rich, perfectly constructed, and easy to smoke. My kind of cigar, actually. On the other hand, if you find smooth billows of humus, sweet wet wood, freshly ground coffee, and a smattering of pepper at the finale a little too tedious, you’ll be saving yourself $12 USD per stick by leaving this one at the shop.

Final Score: 90

 

 

 

Blood Red Moon Mini Perfecto

Blood Red Moon

To survive the summer heat this year I stuck to smaller cigars, and this little perfecto from Cult Cigars was one of the better ones in my arsenal. Cult Cigars have been around for a while now — I reviewed the Cult Classic almost three years ago — but they appear to have a hit on their hands with Blood Red Moon.

Large format cigars have been gaining in popularity, and it seems like they get larger everyday. (Sometimes to a ridiculous degree. You will never see a review for 7 x 70 size cigar here. Sorry, but my gob stops at 60.) Cult has gone the other direction with Blood Red Moon. Three formats are in production, and the largest is a slightly oversized 5.5 x 54 robusto; the others are a 4.7 x 42 mini corona and a 4.7 x 44 mini perfecto. The perfectos are perfecto when you’re trying to find maximum shade under a Joshua tree in the desert in July.

I smoked the Mini Perfectos in abundance this summer — all in the Ecuadorian Habano wrapper — but all three formats are also available in Connecticut shade and Habano maduro. They arrive in packs of five, sold separately or packaged in bricks of 50. No bands, but the boxes are attractively illustrated.

Construction Notes

The Mini Perfecto in Ecuadorian Habano is a nicely shaped figurado: pointy at the head with a Presidente style foot. (Similar to the foot on a Fuente Hemingway.) The wrapper is a ruddy colorado maduro, a little bit veiny but sheeny.

It’s hard to know where to cut a head like this, but the cigar draws well with even the most conservative cut. It burns evenly and fairly slowly. I was tempted to puff these quickly at times and learned that they will get a little ornery if disrespected.

Overall construction: Excellent

Blood Red Moon 2

 

Tasting Notes

The first half of this Mini Perfecto is  marked by oak and black pepper. There is a surprising note of freshly baked bread on the nose, accompanied by an earthy aftertaste. I usually associate this combination with small Habanos like Partagas Shorts or Ramon Allones Small Club Coronas. Finding these flavors in a readily available $2.00 mini perfecto is my definition of a cheap thrill.

In the second half the oak turns to cedar and a touch of coffee enters the fray. The earthy flavor at the foundation remains for the duration but it can get heavy with overzealous puffing. For a small cigar it has a decent kick, which, depending on your tolerance for Lady Nicotine, could be another reason to take it easy with these little fellers.

Blood Red Moon 3

Conclusion

The Blood Red Moon Mini Perfecto excels both as a small cigar and a bargain smoke. The flavors are complex and the construction is uniformly excellent.  If you’re summerizing (or winterizing) your collection, or just looking at a light paycheck this week, Blood Red Moon should be on your horizon. Smoke them slowly and they will pay dividends that far surpass their humble $2 USD price tag.

Final Score: 90

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