A couple months ago Gordon Mott of Cigar Aficionado penned a blog post about the misleading use of cigar ratings in advertising. This was prompted by one manufacturer in particular who cited a 93 rating to promote a cigarillo line. The problem is that the rating was for a toro-sized cigar made by the same company 20 years ago. Unfair? Misleading? Of course it is. But if anyone should know something about smoke and mirrors, it’s a cigar aficionado.
Even if the advertising were for the same cigar, the use of that rating would still be questionable. Only the largest cigar companies are able to maintain the huge libraries of tobacco necessary to create the same blends, year after year. In many cases this just isn’t possible, especially with smaller boutique brands.
Take one of the great cigar success stories as an example. Ten years ago, Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia was virtually unknown outside the circles of cigar geeks who read blogs like this. El Rey de Los Habanos was just one of the many small shops that populated Miami’s Calle Ocho neighborhood, but they were making cigars like none other, and consumers quickly caught on. The Miami operation couldn’t keep up with demand, and after a change in name and a move to Esteli, Nicaragua, My Father Cigars now operates a huge facility that rivals that of many long established cigar companies.
While they still make stellar cigars (some better than others) I would hesitate to call My Father “boutique” at this point in time. They are not the same company they were ten years ago, and they aren’t using the same tobacco. And yet… the Don Pepin brand name remains the same, and some fans of the brand still think of it as a boutique label. So the question is this: when I pick up a DPG Blue Label in my local cigar shop and think about that potent blast of black pepper and the cocoa and the caramel of that brilliant Nicaraguan Corojo — am I living in the past?
I thought I might try a little experiment to test that hypothesis. Digging into the deepest recesses of my dwindling supply of aging cigars, I found DPG Blue Labels from three different years. Unfortunately they were not all the same size, but at least they represent the DPG Blue over a significant period of time: a robusto from 2006, a torpedo from 2009, and another robusto of recent vintage. All three cigars received the same treatment and were smoked under the same torrid desert conditions.
There are some minor differences in appearance, but all three are well made cigars. Both the 2006 and 2013 robustos have wrappers that are fairly dry and leathery in appearance, in contrast to the torpedo, which is noticeably more oily and smooth. All three are a little bit bumpy, but solid, and they all exhibit a firm but productive draw.
The biggest surprise was the way the 2013 robusto is finished. Early on, DPG became famous for the way his cigars were perfectly triple wound, and the 2006 robusto is no exception. The cap on this ’06 cigar was precisely applied by a master craftsman. A thing of beauty. On the other hand, the 2013 robusto is not triple wound at all. While still attractive and functional, the straight cap on the newer cigar is a surprise and leaves me with a little bit of nostalgia for the good old days… remember 2006? George W. Bush? Windows XP? Okay, I guess it wasn’t that long ago…
What I remember most about the DPG Blue is its explosive introduction. Ask anyone who smoked the big-bore Pepins back in the day, and you’ll probably hear the same thing. I expected the 2006 robusto to have mellowed, and my expectation was borne out. What I didn’t expect was that the 2013 blend would be almost as mellow as the 2006. Either the blend has been tamed by its designers, or my palate really rose to the challenge when I smoked the ’13.
Assuming the former, it seems that the power of the Blue Label blend has waned in recent years.
The oldest of the group, the 2006 robusto, turned out to be a disappointment. The opening was mildly spicy, but the palate flavors were papery and flat. The mid-section brought some cocoa and pepper finally showed up in the last third. A complex aroma of leather and caramel saved the cigar, though it could never quite overcome the tannic and dry qualities that appeared on the palate. I was expecting more from this elder statesman, but apparently its glory days have passed.
The 2009 torpedo was the most complex of the three: leather, cedar, and roasted nuts with increasing earthiness on the palate as the cigar progressed. In the mid-section there are caramel notes and a rich potent aroma. The cigar ends with a pretty good nicotine thump, even after four years in the box. There is a dash of pepper before the inevitable char at the finish line.
The newest exemplar of the blend, the 2013 robusto, was surprisingly smooth. I expected a major recoil from this Nicaraguan cannon, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never been a fan of overwhelming spice, but I would expect that smokers who pick up a DPG Blue are looking for that very thing, and I have to wonder if by now they’ve moved on to other blends. The smoke is medium in body and flavorful, but not wildly complex either. Some cocoa and cedar with a touch of sweetness round out the palate flavors, which get a little more concentrated as the cigar burns to its conclusion.
Even strong cigars lose their potency over time, but I was still surprised at how much the 2006 DPG Blue had faded. This used to be one of the heaviest sluggers around, but time has mellowed the old blend to a shadow of its former self. In the intervening years the cigar appears to have been reblended and refined, and while I wouldn’t call the 2013 blend a shadow exactly, it’s certainly not as substantial as the 2006 was when it was fresh. In between these two was the 2009 torpedo — the best of the bunch, and the closest to what I remember the original blend tasting like.
All of which is merely to point out what is fairly obvious to serious cigar connoisseurs — cigars in storage change with age, and blends change over time as manufacturers tinker with them or use other tobaccos out of necessity. The DPG Blue simply tastes different today than it did in 2006, and using a rating from years ago to describe a cigar made today is highly questionable at best.
11 thoughts on “DPG Blue Through the Years”
Tom, you make a lot of great points, especially the dubious practice of touting outdated ratings, but perhaps this experiment validates Don Pepin’s own opinion, and that is that cigars are made to be smoked upon release and not purposely aged. Perhaps because of this, it may be that his blends are not really made with aging in mind.. I have not been back into the pastime of cigars long enough to have had any Blues going back more than a few years, but I do enjoy the heck out of them with 6-12 months of rest on them; not actually aging them, but just rounding them out. I especially enjoy the Exquisitos corona gorda vitola.
I do love the concept of the vintage flight sampling to show how things change from year to year, and that we should always approach cigars with an open mind and be a bit more cautious in our expectations, since a variety of factors can come into play, some for the better, and some, not so much.
Thanks for the great post! It was worth the wait. 😉
6-12 months sounds like a good rest period to me. Heavier blends might do with a few months more, but I am not aging my cigars for years and years anymore. I know there are long-term aging proponents out there, but I respectfully disagree with them, especially when it comes to DPG and My Father blends.
By the way, Tom, the talk of DPG/My Father brings to mind that July 22 is “Smoke a JJ for JJ Day”.
I have my Serie JJ Little Robusto ready to go, and hope that everyone else who reads this will join in to help a great BOTL to honor his son.
Great post. This cross year comparison is not done or talked about enough. It’s funny you reviewed the Blue, because I’ve noticed a huge difference in the DPG Black. The current DPG Black is just a mediocre cigar that has lost the unique flavors of the original. I actually now prefer the Blue to the Black, and it used to be the reverse. I understand DPG does not have the same source for his tobacco and that crops change from year to year, but it’s still sad for someone like me who fell in love with the original.
I’ve noticed a change in the Black as well. I used to get a box of Perlas at the beginning of the summer as quick smokes when it’s hotter than Hades here, but the last box I got was really bland. I haven’t really found a good substitute either. Maybe the old man will get fed up with his mogul status and open up a chinchalle on 8th St again so we can get our old smokes back. (Dreaming again, I know…)
I was hugely dissapointed with a [whole box of] dpg blues. I never tried the brand in its older incarnations but after smoking 24 of the 2012s i can honestly say i will never buy another pepin made cigar again. Out of the whole box a total of two smoked like you described the 2013, and one of them lost its flavor halfway. The rest? Well lets just say if they didnt all come in the same box with the same bands i couldnt tell they were the same cigars. Some were flat and boring with a woody flavor, others with a weird peaty flavor, and a few with natural tobacco and horrendous levels of spice. The wrappers werent even the same on each cigar. But the common thing was they all sucked.
I heard johnny drew talk about this once, and he said that in some places the rollers arent looked over carefully when they make the cigars. The factory hands out their tobacco for the day and lets them go loose, and as a result the rollers overuse some tobacco, under use another and all around disregard what the blend is supposed to consist of. As a result the cigars have no consistency at all and the blend is completely changed. THis is whats happening at the My Father factory. Ive experienced the same thing with other boxes made there and each time i wasted between 110-160 dollars on a bunch of cigars that werent what they were supposed to be.
Construction was good however ill give him that, but thats all im giving because i wasted alot of money buying those thinking that his reputation preceded him in a good way, but that was not the case at all. Maybe at one point pepin deserved the credit he is known for, but IMO he grew to big for his briches and sacrificed quality for quantity.
I dont mean to bad mouth, but someone needs to call bullsht sometime.
Consider bullshit called! It sounds like something really went wrong at the factory. I know these cigars aren’t what they used to be, but I’ve never found inconsistency like you describe. I think if I were you I would have returned the box.
And to be clear, what you said about what Johnny Drew said is not a direct quote from JD about the My Father factory. That’s hearsay… and it’s how rumors start to circulate and I want no part of that. Now if you can get him to say that on camera, well, that would be very interesting…
Is it possible that Ryanb’s palate simply isn’t attuned to what My Father/DPG has to offer? We all have our preferences, and his may just not fit into their characteristics. As far as the inconsistencies go, I agree, return them if they came from a reputable retailer. What he experienced just doesn’t sound right.
As to JD, I can’t see him bad-mouthing another manufacturer like that, especially one with Pepin’s reputation and standing. I believe he has too much respect for those who came before him and made Drew Estate’s existence possible.
@cigarfan: yes you are correct about JD and MF factory, it was NEVER said by jonny drew about the my father factory, in fact it was in duscussion about how he keeps quality control in his own factory. If there was any missunderstanding by what that meant i apologize, especially if JD is reading this as i hate putting inflammatory words in anyones mouth, especially jonathon as he seems like a straight up honest dude.
@jjo: my palate is finely tuned to medium/full bodied nicaraguan puro cigars. Thats all i smoke, thats all ill ever smoke(minus the occasional honduran or even a decent dominican). I know a bad cigar when i smoke one and those cigars were bad to the bone(not in a good way lol). What i experienced wasnt right, but it wasnt imagined.