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.
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.
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.
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.
Final Score: 79
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.