Cuba Aliados Anniversary

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Before there was Puros Indios there was Cuba Aliados, the original brand and pride of master cigar maker Rolando Reyes, Sr. Today his cigars are made in Danli, Honduras, but the name “Cuba Aliados” conjures up images of an earlier time when these cigars were rolled in Havana.

Reyes’ experience in the cigar business stretches back seventy years and includes training and employment at the Partagas and H. Upmann factories in Havana. Eventually he opened his own factory — the original Cuba Aliados, named for an old bus line — that was producing six million cigars a year for the Cuban domestic market when it was seized by the Castro regime after the revolution.

The Reyes family moved to the United States in 1970, and after struggling to gain a foothold in Union City, New Jersey, Cuba Aliados was born again. Demand for Reyes’ cigars soon exceeded the supply, so they migrated first to Miami where they increased production, and then to Honduras several years later. They still maintain a presence in both Union City and Miami.

For many years Cuba Aliados had an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper similar to the one on the Puros Indios cigar, and was distributed exclusively by JR Cigars. In 2004, distribution rights were reacquired by Reyes and the occasion was marked by a change to distinguish the two brands — a new Nicaraguan corojo wrapper was introduced to the Cuba Aliados line.

So I was thrilled to receive a sampler pack from Puros Indios that included two of their new Cuba Aliados Anniversary cigars — a beautiful Diadema No. 3 with a natural Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper and a Short in a rich and dark corojo maduro. The press release notes that both of “these unique sizes have come to represent Cuban Master Blender Rolando Reyes Sr. and his 60 years of experience in the tobacco industry.”

These Anniversary cigars celebrate both the century-plus tradition of the Cuba Aliados brand name as well as the seven decades of Don Rolando Reyes’ work in the industry. They will be available in both Nicaraguan corojo and Ecuadoran Sumatra wrappers, with filler from Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and Ecuadoran Sumatra binders. All tobaccos are aged for at least six years and total production will be limited to between 200,000 and 300,000 cigars.

The Diadema No. 3 is an example of the cigars maker’s art at its highest. These are made completely by hand and without the use of molds, which takes considerable skill and experience. My sample suffered a little damage in shipping, but I was able to repair it with a little vegetable glue and it smoked fine. The prelight scent is slightly cedary and it cut cleanly to open a free prelight draw. The tapered foot lights as easily as if it were a candle. (In a Cigar Aficionado interview Rolando Sr. joked that some people are intially confused by this unique shape and don’t know which end put in their mouths!)

The first third focuses on cocoa and caramel aromas with a mild taste and almost no finish. It burns slowly and evenly and the ash holds nicely. The flavor builds gradually, bringing at the end a zing of pepper and a sharp aftertaste that sneaks up and wakes me from my reverie as the ash nears my fingertips. This is a very refined cigar with a sweet cubanesque aroma that at times reminded me of maple syrup. It’s an easy going but sophisticated medium-bodied smoke.

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The Short has an altogether different personality, starting with an oily corojo maduro wrapper that makes it look like a thoroughly grilled sausage link. There’s a ton of flavor packed in this 4 x 48 firecracker, but any prelight indication of this is hidden beneath a cedar sheath which imparts a distinctly woody scent to the wrapper. Once lit this little guy pours on a full-bodied sweet and spicy flavor with a rich leathery aroma and some residual cedar. Into the second half, the sweetness from the wrapper predominates. The woody component reminds me of PI’s Cienfuegos, but the Aliados is stouter, with more bittersweet chocolate and coffee notes. This is the heaviest cigar I’ve smoked from Puros Indios, and the rich flavor is best enjoyed slowly, sipped like a smoky cognac. My only criticism is that the thick and oily wrapper tends to burn erratically and needs an occasional touchup.

These are outstanding cigars, the best of the best from Cuba Aliados, and a fitting tribute to the master who started it all so many years ago. Suggested retail prices are $12.00 for the Diadema and $8.00 for the Short.

Thanks to the fine folks at Puros Indios for allowing me to preview these cigars. Stay tuned for the official announcement of interesting developments at PI for 2008: a new company name, a new logo, a new website and — most importantly — new blends, including their first cigar with a Cameroon wrapper!

–cigarfan

Trinidad 100th Anniversary Robusto

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Trinidad is a name that will forever be associated with the legendary “diplomatic” cigar that Fidel Castro bequeathed to lucky statesmen visiting Cuba. It was considered by many to be the most exclusive and presumably the finest cigar of its time. So it came as a surprise when Castro revealed to Marvin Shanken in a Cigar Aficionado interview that he never offered the Trinidad brand to visiting dignitaries — he always presented them Cohibas. In fact, he even denies knowing about the Trinidad brand in that sense.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a reason for that.

The Trinidad 100th Anniversary line was created by Altadis USA to celebrate the founding of the brand by Diego and Ramon Trinidad around 1905. The Trinidad brothers were originally hardware traders who bought their wares in the city of Santa Clara, Cuba, and then transported them for sale to the remote villages of the region. One day they were hauling their empty wagons back to Santa Clara to resupply and they noticed the magnificent tobacco crops of the Pinar del Rio around them. It occurred to them that they might as well fill their wagons and try to sell some of this commodity in Santa Clara when they got there. They did this, and subsequently found themselves in the tobacco business. But eventually they noticed that there was an even greater profit to be had in the final product, cigars. They hired a number of cigar rollers and set up shop in the nearby town of Ranchuelo. The Trinidad y Hermano brand was born.

The business continued to grow and the brothers hired more workers and moved to larger factories. The company was thriving until it was beset by what seemed at first to be a disaster: a large crop of tobacco leaf destined for cigars was attacked by the fearsome tobacco beetle. All seemed lost, so Diego ordered that the remains be chopped up and salvaged for cigarettes. But instead of a loss this turned out to be a windfall. They saw their profits double, and the cigar factory quickly became a cigarette factory.

And while they continued to make cigars, the Trinidads were primarily cigarette producers. By the 1950’s, Diego’s American-educated son, Diego Jr., had refitted and modernized the Trinidad factory into what Cuba’s weekly Bohemia called “An Industrial Giant of Cuba.” In 1959 their earnings were in excess of one million U.S. dollars. But within a few years this wealth and power would fall prey to the treachery of Fidel Castro in a very personal way.

Diego Trinidad was opposed to the Batista government which had seized power in 1952. Batista was a dictator of the first order, and Trinidad saw that if he was overthrown democracy might return to Cuba. This would be good for both Cuba, and his business. Fidel Castro’s revolution presented an opportunity for a return to democracy, the progressive constitution of 1940, and a better life. There was no indication at this point that Castro would seize power for himself and socialize the country’s industries. Documents exist that show Trinidad was approached by Castro for funding, and he thereafter made sizable contributions to Castro’s movement. In part this was to promote safe delivery of cigarettes through hostile territory in the countryside, but in part it had to be because he had faith in the movement. If only Trinidad had known that Castro’s victory would destroy private industry and rob him of his livelihood, he would no doubt have done differently.

So one wonders what goes through Castro’s mind when he hears the name Trinidad. Maybe there’s a very good reason why he denies knowledge of the name of this legendary cigar. It’s pure speculation on my part, but perhaps acknowledgement of a friendship betrayed — especially in the name of the world’s finest cigar — just doesn’t sit well with him.

The Trinidad Anniversary cigar celebrates one hundred years of struggles and success on the part of the Trinidad family. Altadis, who now owns the brand, appears to have released very few of these and I feel privileged to happen upon a few. Data on the release date and number of cigars produced is lacking, but we do know the nature of the blend: a Nicaraguan corojo wrapper, Connecticut broadleaf binder, and filler from Nicaragua, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

Upon first examination I thought there was something wrong with the head of this cigar. It looked like there was some stray tobacco caked or pasted on the cap, so I picked at it a little and to my surprise up popped a thin little pig tail! It was crushed down on top the head so completely that I didn’t even see it when I took the photo above. This, along with a quadruple cap, was my first indication that this was a finely constructed cigar.

The wrapper is an oily, darkish natural color with a little bit of tooth. Prelight the scent was a little grassy, but otherwise unremarkable. A somewhat difficult cut and an easy light later I was greeted with the sweet smell of corojo and gobs of smooth cool smoke. The first half of this cigar is perfectly balanced between sweet caramel flavors and a slightly salty cedar. The draw is a little on the tight side, but accommodating enough to bring a nice tasty cloud with each pull. The burn is even and trouble free, while the ash that builds is a solid white trophy that I proudly display to the dog. The dog is not impressed. I am.

Into the second third the body builds from an easy medium to something approaching full. The flavor wanders into the vicinity of cocoa, backtracks to leather, and then reminds me again of the salty cedar from the start. The last third develops a peppery core on the tongue while caramel and cocoa continue their jig in my nose. At this point I am almost ready to call this robusto “Pepinesque,” but it lacks the horsepower. The finish lengthens and the aftertaste grows spicier, while the smoke remains smooth to the end, departing with a sharp tang as it waves goodbye.

Take a look around your B&Ms for this one. It’s not much more expensive than the regular line Trinidads — around 8 or 10 bucks a pop — but in my opinion it’s light years better. It’s not as full bodied as the standard line, so if that’s what you’re expecting look elsewhere. But if you like a solid medium bodied cigar with a lot of complexity and classic corojo flavors, you won’t regret picking up a few. If you can find them.

VegaFina Robusto

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Over the years there have been several different cigars marketed under the name Vega Fina, mainly because the companies owning the brand name have merged or been acquired or simply changed hands: the brand name appears to have first been owned by Havatampa, an old manufacturer around since the early 1900’s. When Tabalera S.A. de España bought Havatampa in 1997, Vega Fina passed to them and was produced by Benji Menendez in Honduras with an Indonesian wrapper. Two years later, Tabacalera S.A. merged with the French tobacco giant SEITA to form Altadis, S.A. Soon after this, production moved to the Dominican Republic and Vega Fina was produced primarily for the Spanish and Western European market as an affordable Dominican premium (but also as a mass market machine mini cigar very popular in Spain.)

Vega Fina continues to be Spain’s most popular Dominican cigar, so Altadis decided to introduce it to the much larger American market early this year. Today they’re made in La Romana’s Tabacalera de Garcia under the supervision of José Séijas.

The VF robusto is graced by a creamy claro-colored Ecuadorian grown Connecticut Shade wrapper that looks good enough to eat. Beneath this, however, is a binder which causes me a little concern: Indonesian TBN. (I have to remind myself that the wrapper on the Dominican Romeo y Julieta 1875 is also TBN, and it’s not bad stuff.) The VF employs filler from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras.

I tend to think of Indonesian TBN as the carpetbagger of cigar tobacco — it seems to turn up only when the “real thing” is no longer available. When Consolidated couldn’t get quality Cameroon in the late 80’s, they turned to TBN. When wrapper leaf of any quality was scarce during the “boom” years, TBN was there. And this is at least partly why it has a such a sullied reputation — it’s often been the alternative, not the prime choice. And unfortunately the alternative, especially during the boom years, was actually bottom-of-barrel tobacco billed as TBN when it may have been something else entirely. So what we were taking in general as “Indonesian” was actually the worst tobacco the region had to offer.

TBN stands for tobaco bawah naungan, which means “tobacco under sheet,” or shade-grown tobacco. Top quality TBN is a cross between native besuki tobacco and Connecticut Shade. It’s a nice looking leaf, so in addition to its blending qualities it can also serve well as a wrapper. Strangely it is also prized for its lack of aroma. I can’t think why this would be appreciated in a wrapper, but used as a binder here perhaps it makes more sense.

The VegaFina robusto is a suave looking cigar. The wrapper is smooth and supple with very few veins. The construction is very good from the start, with a cool even draw and a nearly straight-edge burn. There’s just a hint of pepper at first light. This quickly disappears and is replaced by a very mild bodied smoke with a creamy texture. Up until the half-way point the flavor is mildly woody with some herbal tea accents. The aroma is exceptional — it blends well with the flavor of the cigar and adds a spicy floral component. (Incidentally, there are none of the metallic overtones that I’ve noticed with Indonesian leaf in the past.)

The flavor picks up at the mid-point, not a lot, but enough to be noticed. Another dash of pepper is added to the mix and the finish goes from non-existent to moderately short at this point. The last third stays the course, and finally a discreet bitterness announces that the finish line has been crossed.

Overall the VegaFina robusto is an excellent mild blend: a fine mid-day smoke, great after breakfast. The price is right on these babies as well: I picked up a few for under 3 USD on the reservation, and it looks like boxes can be had for under 75 online. Factoring price into the equation, I think this is my new mild one. (Especially since it’s getting hard to find Nestor Reserve Connecticuts these days…)

–cigarfan

Domaine Avo ’50’

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Avo Uvezian has led a cigar-charmed life. He started out as a jazz pianist and composer, playing and touring as a very young man in Lebanon and the Middle East after World War II. In 1947 he traveled to New York, where he studied at the Juilliard School of Music and eventually was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. (He played piano in the First Army Band.)

After following family members to Puerto Rico and working in the jewelry business for many years he started playing piano at a local resort. He discovered that the guests enjoyed the locally made cigars he kept on the top of his piano, and after giving away one too many of his personal stash, his young daughter Karin suggested that he might as well sell them.

This was the spark that eventually led Uvezian to contact Hendrik Kelner of Davidoff, who had just opened a cigar factory in the Dominican Republic. Avo’s first cigars were called Bolero, but the name was quickly changed to Avo when it was discovered that “Bolero” had already been registered by another manufacturer. The initial production run in 1987 was about five thousand boxes. Today about three million cigars are produced under the Avo brand name and its extensions.

The first Avo cigars – the now Classic line – were released in 1988, but Avo is really more of a song-and-dance man, a self described “PR man,” than a business and paperwork kind of guy, so in 1995 he sold his brand to Davidoff. But he remains, with his trademark Mimbre hat and ice cream suit, the face of Avo Cigars.

The Domaine Avo was blended to be a stronger version of the original Avo. It was released in 1998 in a robusto size only, but other sizes, including this 6 x 50/54 perfecto, were added in 2001. The filler and binder are a blend of San Vicente and piloto from the Avo farms in the Dominican Republic, and the wrapper is Connecticut shade grown in Ecuador. Production is overseen by the inimitable Henke Kelner in Santiago.

This is a beautiful cigar. For a few months I kept it in the top row of my humidor just so I could admire it during those few moments of indecision when I can’t decide what to smoke. The wrapper is a creamy colorado claro with small veins that are just about evenly spaced. The head and perfecto foot are flawlessly formed. There is an overall sense of proportionality and balance to this cigar that makes me hesitant to commit it to the flame.

The head clips cleanly and the prelight draw is much more generous than I expected, even with a nearly closed foot. After an easy light the draw opens up even more and becomes completely effortless. This cigar exhibits excellent construction all the way around — a great draw and a slow even burn.

The Domaine Avo introduces itself with a handful of sharp peppercorn — a surprise, considering the genteel appearance of the cigar. The finish from the start is quite long, and I found myself thinking “This is an Avo?” The texture of the smoke is smooth and creamy like I would expect from Connecticut wrapper, but the aroma carries all the characteristics of Ecuador, a nice easygoing cedary spice.

After the first inch the pepper fades a bit into a mild woody flavor, balsa-like with a salty element. The spice from the wrapper combines with this flavor very well to create a complex smoky brew. The middle third continues in this vein, with the wrapper stealing the spotlight and the base flavors taking a back seat. Into the last third the pepper kicks in again. I found that I had to smoke slowly to keep the smoke in balance at this point– this is where a slightly tighter draw might be appreciated. But of course the sensible thing is to just slow down a little.

The balanced appearance of this cigar seems to be reflected in the way that it smokes: it ends very much the way it starts, with a lot of spicy drama. In between is a pleasantly pastoral interlude. An extremely classy cigar that falls in the medium body range, maybe stretching to full at the end.

The Domaine Avo “50” is not a cheap date, but you’re not taking this one on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the State Fair. This is an operatic cigar, and in my opinion it’s worth the 8 or 10 dollars it sells for. There are a lot of fantastic cigars in that price range (and less, for that matter) but if price isn’t an object this stick is definitely worth a look.

–cigarfan

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 – Robusto Grande

Cigar Stats
Brand Owner: Tobaccos Puros de Nicaragua, S.A.
Model/Vitola: Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 – Robusto Grande (box-pressed)
Size: 5.50 x 52
Wrapper: Nicaragua Habano Criollo
Binder: Nicaragua Habana
Filler: Nicaragua Habana

Other sizes available

  • Consul 4.50 x 52 (robusto)
  • Machito 4.75 x 42 (petit corona)
  • Gran Consul 4.75 x 60 (torpedo)
  • Belicoso 6.00 x 54 (torpedo)
  • Magnum 6.00 x 60 (toro)
  • Perfecto 6.25 x 58
  • Churchill 6.875 x 48
  • Lancero 7.50 x 38 (long panatela)
Tobacco Farm at Esteli, Nicaragua
Tobacco farm at Esteli, Nicaragua

Joya de Nicaragua (The Jewel of Nicaragua) was created in Nicaragua’s first cigar factory, which opened in 1964 in the city of Esteli. In the glory days of the 1970s, the brand was arguably the finest in the world, smoked in the White House and prized for its rich flavor. After war decimated Nicaragua and the original factory burned to the ground, Joya de Nicaragua struggled to regain its former glory. Prior to 2000, the brand had taken on a mild, easygoing flavor. Responding to the trend toward full-flavored cigars and looking at its own heritage as a producer of powerful smokes, the brand’s makers created a version called Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970. This was one of the first “high octane” powerful cigars to hit the market back in the early 2000’s. It was one of the hits of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in 2002. This cigar features an extremely powerful, heavy, thick smoke highlighted by a rich, oily, almost wet-looking Maduro wrapper. This is the type of cigar that the old Cubans use to make for themselves after quitting time in the Cuban factories.

Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Band

Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970

Bottom line up front …..
“All Muscle, all the time,” is the slogan for the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 and this cigar certainly flexes its muscles. Antaño is the cigar directly responsible for reviving the struggling Joya line, and after smokng one there is no wonder as to why. It has received high ratings, a 91 in Cigar Insider and 92 in Cigar Afficianado, and was in the top 5 of Robb Report’s 2003 annual Best of the Best. Antaño, a Nicaraguan puro, is a powerhouse full of flavor; leathery and slightly earthy, this cigar is rich and spicy. The draw is excellent and the thick, dark wrapper burns well. A true treat for those who enjoy a complex and very full-bodied smoke at a very reasonable price.

Pre-light
A couple large veins on this dark rusty brown colored wrap but no ill effect on the burn. The head is finished with a rounded cap. No tooth is evident over the smooth oily wrap. Construction is solid with no soft spots to the light squeeze. It is well balanced in the hand and the pre-light draw is firm. Although this cigar is advertised as box-pressed, it is barely evident by looking at it. A very subtle aroma of earth and aged tobacco from the wrap. The band is good looking and took a little effort to remove but without effect on the cigar. I used my Xikar cutter for a clean clip.

The Smoking Experience
The foot toasted and lit but with some effort. The wrap is very thick and it took a couple torch blasts to get everything going but, once lit, no burn issues at all. Draw was firm but not too firm and eased just a little over the length of the cigar. Burn line got a little bumpy but always self-corrected. The ash was dark gray with small black striations and held on well to about two inches each time. This cigar puts out allot of smoke and stayed nice and cool all the way to the nub. The smoke seemed to increase in volume past the half way point.

Full bodied and full flavored this cigar leaves nothing to the imagination. Flavors hit the palate like a freight train. Starts with a surge of dark earth and pepper which quickly gives way to a core of sweet earthy flavors with subtle notes of cocoa and espresso. The nose has quite a “twang” to it. The last half ushers in more pepper and spice but not overpowering.

Definitely a strong full-bodied smoke but well balanced. I did not experience any harshness. Not the cigar for morning coffee IMO and should follow something to eat. I had both cigars for this review with McClannan 25 single malt scotch which really complimented the cigar. I’m thinking a nice cold Guiness Stout would work too.

My take …..
Being a fan of stronger cigars, I really enjoyed the Joya De Nicaragua Antaño 1970. I bet these are just fantastic with a year or more to age. I’m curious about the Gran Reserva as well. That’s on my list of cigars to try.

MSRP comes in at $5.00 per stick. I received mine in a trade so I’m not sure exactly what they cost originally but my local B&M has them for $6.25 a stick. Online they run $3.50 per stick if you buy a box (20) and $3.70 if you get a 5ver. Very good price point for a such a flavorful well-made cigar.

Smoke Til Your Green

Like it … Yes
Buy it again … Absolutely, maybe stock some boxes
Recommend it … Yes, to those who like potent cigars

What others are saying about the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 …..

25 March 2006
Cigarfan of Keepers of the Flame
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Robusto Grande

28 August 2006
Patrick A of The Stogie Guys
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Consul

30 May 2007
Dickie Dingleheimer
Review of Joya de Nicaragua Antano Cigars
Rated 4.60/5

As of 10 August 2007
Top 25 Cigar Ratings (26 reviews)
Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970 Robusto Grande
Average Rating 8.35 out of 10

Publications

18 May 2007 – Cigar Aficionado
An Interview with Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, Owner of Joya de Nicaragua


… lucky7

“It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep,
and never to refrain when awake.” (Mark Twain)

Angel 100 – O.T.C.

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The Angel 100 series of cigars was named in honor of Angel Oliva, Sr., the patriarch of the Oliva Tobacco Company. Angel Oliva was born in 1907 and came to the United States from Cuba in the late ’20s. After a few years of working odd jobs he found himself working as an assistant to an unsuccessful tobacco broker in Tampa, Florida. Oliva quickly demonstrated his talent for the tobacco trade as well as his keen business skills — he restored his employer’s brokerage to financial health and then he launched his own enterprise, the Oliva Tobacco Company, in 1934.

By the 1950’s Oliva was one of the top distributors of premium tobacco leaf in the world, which at this time meant almost exclusively Cuban leaf. His relationships with Cuban farmers, as well as his company’s ability to buy whole crops and sort the leaf in house, fueled the expansion of the brokerage.

But what Angel Oliva is best remembered for is his distrust of Fidel Castro and his anticipation of the U.S. embargo. Oliva declared Castro a communist before the world really understood him to be one and predicted what would happen to the Cuban tobacco industry. In 1961, one step ahead of Castro’s revolution, the Olivas established a tobacco farm in Honduras, one of the first modern tobacco plantations in Central America. Not long after this, Angel managed to buy up almost four million pounds of Cuban leaf — it turned out to be the last shipment of tobacco from Cuba before JFK signed the embargo into law.

The Oliva empire would eventually extend to almost all of the primary tobacco growing regions of the world: Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic (at the request of the Fuente family) and Ecuador. Or perhaps I should say, especially Ecuador. The sun grown wrappers on Ashton’s VSG, Arturo Fuente’s Chateau Fuente and Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown (to name a few) are all from Oliva’s farms in Ecuador. Tobacco from other Oliva farms also goes into brands like La Gloria Cubana, La Flor Dominicana, Pepin Garcia, and just to confuse everyone, some Oliva cigars as well. (The two Oliva families are often confused, but they are totally distinct and separate companies: the Oliva Tobacco Company is the legacy of Angel Oliva, Sr., as opposed to the Oliva Cigar Company, maker of Flor de Oliva, Master Blends, etc.)

The one thing the Oliva Tobacco Company doesn’t do is make cigars. The Angel 100 is actually made by NATSA (Nicaragua American Tobacco, S.A.) in Esteli with all Oliva grown tobaccos: binder and filler from their La Joya farm in Nicaragua, and sun grown wrapper from their La Meca vega in Ecuador. Four sizes were produced, each pressed and packed in boxes of five. The names of the different vitolas all hold some significance for the OTC family:

  • 1961 (6 x 45 corona)
  • La Joya (6 x 54 toro)
  • La Meca (6.12 x 52 torpedo)
  • O.T.C. (6 x 48 corona gorda)

The Angel 100 O.T.C. is a rough looking cigar. The wrapper is veiny and dark, the way sun grown wrappers often are, and the cap is just a bit loose on the head of the cigar. But once clipped it draws perfectly and produces a fine even burn with a solid ash.

When I first received these about a year ago they were harsh and inhospitable cigars. But I still found something intriguing about them, and I liked the aroma, so I put them away thinking they just needed some time to simmer. This turns out to be exactly the case — this is still a forthright and aggressive smoke, but it’s much more docile than it was a year ago. In fact, it’s nearly smooth. Full flavored, most definitely, but easier on the membranes.

The O.T.C. opens up with a medium body, and after the introductory first third it gets close to full. The Nicaraguan character of the cigar really comes through with lots of sweet woody flavors and the wrapper lends a fruity element to the smoke — it reminds me a lot of the wrapper on Rocky Patel’s Vintage 92 cigars, but played at a louder volume. It’s smooth, but with plenty of zing on the palate: pepper on the tongue and cherry in the nose… an interesting combination. And to my surprise it’s not a nicotine powerhouse — it generates a pretty good current, but it didn’t overload my admittedly delicate circuits.

As the cigar burns it develops a more serious character as the heavy Nicaraguan flavors overtake the subtleties of the wrapper. It remains balanced, but the balance shifts a bit. There is definitely enough complexity here to keep the senses guessing.

Just one small caveat: there is something a little odd about this cigar in the first and middle stages, a detergent-like overtone that may not be to everyone’s liking. Personally, I like that springtime fresh scent, but I can see how some might find it a little distracting.

This is a limited edition cigar with only a few sizes still readily available, though at a very reasonable price: about 13 USD per five pack box. It’s a fine cigar for fans of full flavor and a worthy tribute to one of the great cigar men of the twentieth century. Get some now and let them sit. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

— cigarfan

Plasencia Reserva Organica Toro

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The Plasencia Reserva Organica is advertised by its distributor, Indianhead, as “the first completely organically grown cigar to come along since the Indians stopped rolling their own.” I might quibble with the concept of growing cigars, and I’ve read that the Cubans have utilized organic methods extensively, but it must be true that the Plasencia Reserva Organica is the first to be certified as a purely organic cigar.

But I can hear the groans already. Organic hippy dippy shit. But wait! What’s so terrible about eschewing the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides? It’s hard to say what the long term effects of these chemicals are on tobacco workers and possibly, the end product, so why not see if it’s possible to go without them? Obviously it’s going to be more difficult to cultivate and harvest any crop in this manner, and therefore more expensive, but I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with it. At the very least it opens the “organic” question for discussion. Have you ever wondered what chemicals are used to produce your favorite cigar?

Nestor Plasencia, Jr. is the madman behind this crazy organic thing, and it only makes sense that he picked up this harebrained idea in a university where he received a degree in Agricultural Engineering. And I suppose being the son of Nestor Plasencia Sr., one of the most prolific cigar makers in Central America, had something to do with it too. Maybe a lot.

To avoid the risk of contamination and because the certification requirements are so stringent, the Organica operation is entirely separate from Plasencia’s other fields and facilities in Esteli and Jalapa. All Nicaraguan tobaccos are used, but only the sturdiest criollo and corojo hybrids make the cut because many of the earlier seeds (such as Camacho’s first generation corojo) are very susceptible to disease and insect damage when they are deprived of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farmers have to substitute a lot of hard work for chemicals in order to keep their crops in good shape.

And all this extra work comes with a price. The toro checks in at around 7 USD per stick, or $135 for a box of 20.

The PRO toro is a nice looking stick. The wrapper is dark and a bit mottled, a little leathery looking, and has a simple tobacco scent with some grassiness to it. The prelight draw is easy, a little too easy on one sample, but overall the roll is good.

This cigar starts up with a very clean, slightly toasty flavor with a touch of sweetness. I certainly wouldn’t guess this was a Nicaraguan puro if I didn’t know it already. The texture of the smoke is very smooth with a mild body that grows to about a medium at the end. A delicate but indistinct aroma accompanies the mild flavor. I can’t decide if it reminds me more of leather or wood, or neither. It’s not easily distinguishable.

By the midpoint the smoke has built a little body and displays some leathery elements, but not a lot of complexity. One of the big challenges for milder bodied cigars is development and complexity, and unfortunately the PRO doesn’t do very well in this department.

This is a very slow burning cigar. Of the three I’ve smoked for this review, I’ve only been able to finish one, after an hour and a half of insistent puffing. The construction here is fair to good, with a couple samples having a loose roll and requiring periodic touchups with the torch. (Can I call these torch-ups?) The ash is a flaky solid white that tends to blow away if the cigar is not promptly ashed.

I really wanted to like this cigar, but in the final analysis I think it just doesn’t have a whole lot of character. It’s not a bad cigar by any means, but it just didn’t hold my interest for any length of time. It’s a very clean-tasting straightforward cigar with a mild body and a mild character. Maybe a little more ligero is called for, or a spicy non-organic sungrown wrapper. It needs a little something, I think.

Partagas Black Maximo

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It seems fitting to follow up a review of Macanudo with a review of a Partagas cigar. In a lot of ways Partagas is the rougher tougher sibling of Macanudo, but they share a common heritage. Cuban master Ramon Cifuentes was the man who developed both of these cigars, though he will always be remembered for Partagas in particular because he and his family before him owned the Partagas factory in Havana before the revolution.

Fidel Castro offered Cifuentes command of Cuba’s nationalized cigar industry in 1961, but for obvious reasons he refused. (Let’s see here. You take away my property and my livelihood and then you offer me a job managing it for your government? No thanks.) Instead Cifuentes went to Connecticut where he was soon working for Edgar Cullman and General Cigar. Cullman put him in charge of General’s operations in Jamaica, where Cifuentes would raise Partagas again, like a phoenix from the ashes, in a new Jamaican form.

In the mid-1970’s General released its Cifuentes engineered Partagas with a Cameroon wrapper. But the extra load placed on the Jamaican factory where Macanudos were also being produced resulted in friction with the labor unions there and a move to the Dominican Republic was soon in the works. Today Partagas (as well as Macanudo) in all their various forms are manufactured by hand in the Dominican Republic.

The Partagas Black Label is a relative newcomer to the General family of cigars. Released in 2001 in response to the demand for full-bodied cigars, Cifuentes protege Daniel Nunez blended this cigar to appeal to fans of maduro and spice. The highlight of the cigar is a jet black sun grown medio tiempo Connecticut broadleaf wrapper. Medio tiempo leaves are the highest leaves on the tobacco plant, the last ones to be harvested. Medio tiempo broadleaf is tough stuff, grown to withstand the rigorous fermentation process that renders it this rich dark shade.

Nunez uses a specially sun grown Dominican binder called “La Vega Especial” and the filler is a blend of Nicaraguan ligero and Dominican piloto cubano. Interestingly, La Vega Especial is used as the wrapper on General’s version of Ramon Allones cigars.

Unlike Macanudo, which is known for its rock solid consistency, I have found the flavor of Partagas Black to vary depending on the size and the age. Most bold and spicy cigars will mellow with age, and I have found that to be the case with this one as well. The pair of Maximos I smoked for this review had been aged for about a year, and were several degrees less spicy than other Partagas Blacks I’ve smoked in the past. Whether this is because of the size or the age, I’m not sure, but I was surprised nevertheless.

With Nicaraguan ligero and piloto cubano at the core and a medio tiempo wrapper, this should be a powerful smoke. And while they were tasty, full of sweet char and a pleasant woody base flavor, I didn’t find them all that spicy. A little chocolatey, a little coffee beaney, but not spicy. Actually, they were quite smooth, and to be honest I preferred these Maximos to my previous experiences with the Black Label. A couple years ago I tried the Black Label and found the pepper overwhelming and way out of balance with the rest of the blend. Today these moderately aged Maximos are powerful enough to keep my palate interested, but not so much that I can’t kick back and savor the other flavors and characteristics of the cigar. Additionally, the rich maduro taste is helped out by a leisurely and even burn.

I’m going to have to pick up a few more of these from the B&M in different sizes just to satisfy my curiosity. They’re reasonably priced and despite the varying levels of spice and intensity they’ve all been fine smokes. Maximos come in aluminum tubes, so maybe that has something to do with the relative mildness of the cigar. Who knows? I guess I will just have to commit a few more Black Labels to the fire in the name of research to find out.

Macanudo Cafe Lords

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Don’t laugh. It’s only a Macanudo, the best selling cigar in America. The reasons for this are many — tradition, consistency, perhaps the mediocrity of the common denominator — but the fact of the matter is that if cigars were running for office, you’d be looking at the President. So I thought I better check it out.

Macanudo has a Jamaican history with British roots that today is a paragon of mild Dominican cigars. The first Macanudo was actually a Cuban Punch that was made in Jamaica. During World War II the British wanted to keep as much of their hard currency contained within British holdings as they could, so trading with Cuba was out. As a British possession Jamaica was open for trade, so some Cuban cigar makers went to Jamaica where they made cigars using Havana leaf for the English market. And so the first Macanudo was born as a frontmark for a Fernando Palacios Punch.

Its English roots are also born out in the names for the various sizes of Macanudo — Duke of Wellington, Prince of Wales, Tudor, Hyde Park, etc. In fact it was the Duke of Windsor who is credited with bringing the term “macanudo” back with him from a polo trip to Argentina. The word is Argentine slang for “excellent” or “cool.” It’s a somewhat dated term, but it’s still in use, and from what I can tell it is generally used to describe people, so I think “cool” is probably the closest translation for American English. For the past few years “Macanudo” has also been a very popular comic strip by the cartoonist Liniers that appears in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

“Clear Havanas” made with Cuban tobacco already in the U.S. at the time of the embargo were available for sale throughout the early 60’s, but by the late 60’s and 70’s it was getting increasingly more difficult to find premium cigars in the U.S. The few that were around were Jamaican, like Royal Jamaica and Montecruz. So around this time, General Cigar bought the Temple Hall factory in Jamaica and with it the U.S. rights to the Macanudo name. Part of the reason for the success of Macanudo is that they were one of the few premiums in production at the time — they built on the name by producing quality premium smokes and became a standard for the industry as one of the few players in the premium game.

In 1971 General introduced Macaduno to the American public, and for years it held its own as a classic Jamaican cigar. As time went on, however, the Dominican cigar industry began to lure companies away from Jamaica with its quality tobacco and lower cost of labor. Gradually the production of Macanudos was transitioned to the Dominican Republic, with only a few larger sizes being made in Jamaica as recently as 2000, when Jamaican production stopped. Today it is an entirely Dominican made cigar.

The wrapper is key to a Mac: it’s a classic Connecticut Shade, but it undergoes a journey before it crowns the cigar. After harvesting in Connecticut the wrapper leaf is fermented over the winter. Then it is packed up and shipped to the DR where is is fermented a little more. Then it goes back to Connecticut again, for a second “winter sweat.” Finally, it returns to the DR where it is unpacked and mixed with wrapper from the previous year’s harvest and fermented one last time. This must be at least partially the reason for Macanudo’s legendary consistency, as well as the fine taste and aroma of the final product.

At long last the cigar is finally rolled, using a binder from Mexico’s San Andres valley and filler from the DR (piloto cubano) and Mexico. There are over twenty sizes to choose from. This is the 4 3/4 x 49 robusto sized Lords.

I have to say this is a very nice mild cigar. Like many mild-bodied cigars with Connecticut wrappers, I usually admire the aroma more than anything else, and that is the case here as well. It starts up with a toasty, nutty flavor and a beautifully sweet aroma. The flavor is somewhat grassy at times, a little papery at others, but never objectionable. It’s a very clean smoking cigar with very little aftertaste (though some would say, with very little taste either.) The construction was spot on — perfect draw, even burn, the works. It burned a little hot after the mid-point, but I can’t rule out operator error there. I tend to hotbox mild cigars.

I guess there really isn’t too much in a Mac to hold my interest over the long term, but I can see keeping a few of these on hand to give to new smokers. It’s a quality mild-bodied cigar that won’t send neophytes scurrying for the restroom, and at around 3 or 4 bucks a stick they’re reasonably priced as well.

And now that I’ve done my duty as a good cigar citizen and “fair and balanced” stogie analyst, I believe it’s time for something a little stronger.  Lemme see here… that mean looking Partagas Black has my attention. It may get more of my attention here shortly…

Heberto Padilla

 

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I’ve always liked the Padilla cigar band. It’s a little bit too big for a robusto sized cigar, but it’s bold without being overbearing — it’s an unusual and striking shape, with a blunted peak at the top. It always intrigued me, but I never really recognized it for what it was until I read an interview with Ernesto Padilla where he said that the crown of the image represents the nib of a fountain pen, in tribute to his father, the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla.

I do have a few interests outside of cigars (believe it or not) and one of them is literature. I hadn’t heard of Heberto Padilla, so I checked out a book of his poems from the library. His poems are like a great cigar: balanced, full flavored, and serene.  He was a true artist, and instead of a cigar review I’d like to offer a brief biography and a selection from his work with the sincere hope that you will look into it as well.

Remembered primarily as a man of letters, Heberto Padilla was initially a supporter but later an outspoken critic of the Castro regime. He was born in the province of Pinar del Rio in 1932, and his first book of poems was published at the age of 16. Soon after that he went to the United States and spent most of the 1950’s here. In 1959 he returned to Cuba with great optimism for the future when the dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown. He took an active role in the new revolutionary government, helping to edit the literary weekly Lunes de Revolucion with his friend, the great Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante (who incidently wrote my favorite book about cigars, Holy Smoke.) Padilla also reported for the government press agency from Eastern Europe and Moscow, places that would give him further insight into the threats that communism might one day pose for Cuban artists.

Gradually the political climate in Cuba began to chill and Padilla saw the threats of oppression take hold — the govemment discontinued Lunes de Revolucion, refused to publish Cabrera Infante’s work, and in 1968 Padilla himself became the focus of controversy.

Padilla’s book of poems, Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game) was entered into the Julian del Casal poetry competition, a contest sponsored by the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists. Despite state pressure on the judges to deny him the award, the judges agreed: even with its open criticism of the Cuban government’s treatment of artists and writers, Fuera del Juego was the superior entry. It was published, but under a shroud of suspicion cast by a preface that warned readers about its dangerously counter-revolutionary tendencies.

Padilla continued to write and air his controversial views despite the climate of hostility gathering around him. In 1971 he read from a collection of poems brazenly called Provocaciones, which led the regime to finally exercise its despotic power over the poet: he was arrested, jailed, and brutalized; his wife, the writer Belkis Cuza Malé , was arrested without cause, and finally he was forced to appear before the Writer’s Union to confess his work as counter-revolutionary. He was also made to denounce other writers, including his wife, as traitors to the revolution.

After a sentence of forced labor, Padilla was allowed to work as a translator while under government watch. He was not allowed to publish, but he managed somehow to get some of his poems to the United States where they were published in the New York Review of Books and later collected in the book Legacies.

In 1980, Castro unexpectedly allowed a number of dissidents to leave Cuba, and with the support of Senator Ted Kennedy and the author Bernard Malamud, Heberto Padilla was able to emigrate to the U.S.

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Song of the Juggler

General, there’s a battle

between your orders and my songs.

It goes on all the time:

night, day.

It knows neither tiredness or sleep–

a battle that has gone on for many years,

so many that my eyes have never seen a sunrise

in which you, your orders, your arms, your trenches

did not figure.

A rich battle

in which, aesthetically speaking, my rags

and your uniform face off.

A theatrical battle–

it only lacks dazzling stage sets

where comedians might come on from anywhere

raising a rumpus as they do in carnivals,

each one showing off his loyalty and valor.

General, I can’t destroy your fleets or your tanks

and I don’t know how long this war will last

but every night one of your orders dies without

being followed,

and, undefeated, one of my songs survives.

–Heberto Padilla

From Legacies

(translated by Alastair Reid and Andrew Hurley)