La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Magnifico

Legend has it that La Aroma de Cuba was one of Winston Churchill’s preferred brands. That would be La Aroma de Cuba de Cuba, a brand which exists today only in the protected vaults of highly disciplined cigar collectors. But all is not lost for the rest of us. “Never give in!” as the old man said.  For we still have Don Pepin. And with the able assistance of the Ashton Cigar Company we have La Aroma de Cuba redux.

There are three distinct blends of La Aroma de Cuba: the non-extension LADC with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (and distinguished red foot band), the Edicion Especial with a sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper (and secondary EE band), and this one, Mi Amor. This incarnation features a Cuban-seed wrapper grown in Mexico. I’m not sure where in Mexico, but I’m guessing it’s not Tijuana. My guess would be somewhere in the San Andres Valley, one of the only regions in the world that produces leaf with the maduro potential of Connecticut’s broadleaf.

More detailed information about the San Andres region is available on the Montecristo Reserva Negra post. Come to think of it, the LADC Mi Amor reminded me a bit of the Monte Reserva — I wouldn’t be surprised if the wrapper is the same leaf, or at least a close relative. They look quite similar and they taste quite similar… so they must be, um, similar.

Mi Amor was reportedly in planning for two years prior to its release at the IPCPR convention last year. Since then it has garnered rave reviews, including the No. 6 spot on Cigar Aficionado’s Best Cigars of 2010. I don’t always agree with CA, but I think they got it right this time.

LADC Mi Amor is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua. Five sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Magnifico – 6 x 52
  • Valentino – 5 3/4 x 58
  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Belicoso – 5 1/2 x 54

Construction Notes

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is not billed as a maduro cigar, but it looks like one, and it tastes like one, so I’m going to say it is one. The wrapper shade is a medium dark maduro, but the wrapper is a little drier and much toothier than what you get with typical maduro processing.

The cigar is box pressed and sports a flat Cuban-style head and My Father Cigars’ impeccable triple-cap. The draw is excellent, and it burns slowly and evenly. The ash is a solid light gray verging on white, though it flakes slightly.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Mi Amor Magnifico (the toro of the family) opens with a combination of earth and chocolate. In the first half-inch there is an old attic-like aroma, somewhat mushroomy, but sweetness soon takes over and the chocolate and coffee flavors prevail. When those somewhat outlandish initial flavors settle down the base flavor of the Nicaraguan filler comes through: a bright acidic tang on the palate. The smoke is rich and smooth.

The chocolate and coffee blend and simmer down to a smooth cocoa in the mid-section of the cigar, but the aroma is still distinctly sweet and the earth tones have almost entirely disappeared.

Some pepper enters the fray in the last third and the smoke is a little sharper on the tongue, though it never becomes harsh. On the nose it’s mostly coffee, but I’m surprised by the floral accents that remind me of another cigar with a romantic reputation — the Cuban Romeo y Julieta.

Conclusion

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is a damn fine smoke. It’s flavorful, smooth, rich, and almost perfectly balanced. The initial earthy flavors quickly mellow into the sweet ones, and the underlying zing keeps the palate popping. The smoke is smooth and the cigar burns beautifully.

After smoking a few of these I immediately went looking for the box price. A heavenly choir did not emerge from a cloud of smoke to sing the under $100 hymn, but I can’t say I was surprised. Around $170 USD is the going rate for the Magnifico. A little outside my range for boxes, but that puts them in the $7-8 range for a single, which I can manage every once in a while. And for a cigar this good, you can bet I will.

Final Score: 93

El Triunfador No. 4

El Triunfador is made by Pete Johnson, known best for his Tatuaje brand and his partnership with Jose “Pepin” Garcia. The El Triunfador name is an old Cuban mark that Johnson revived, but in order to retain ownership of the name he had to produce a certain number of cigars under that mark. So he made what he described at the time as a Cabaiguan Maduro in a lancero size and released it to a select few in 2009 as El Triunfador.

The blend in production today is entirely different from that original release, though the lancero with a broadleaf wrapper is still made in a limited number. The new blend, originally designed for release in Europe, has an Ecuadorian Habano cover. Under the hood is a Nicaraguan binder and filler, including leaf from Pepin Garcia’s La Estrella farm in Esteli. Seven sizes are in production:

  • No. 1 Lonsdale – 6 1/2 x 42
  • No. 2 Belicoso Fino – 5 1/2 x 52
  • No. 3 Corona Gorda – 5 5/8 x 46
  • No. 4 Robusto – 5 x 48
  • No. 5 Petite Corona – 4 3/8 x 42
  • No. 6 Lancero – 7 1/2 x 38
  • No. 7 Toro Grande – 5 7/8 x 54

The original release El Triunfador is easily distinguished from the No. 6 lancero by the band — the original broadleaf lancero has a dark brown band, while all of the newer numbered cigars have red bands. Both bands are classic and simple, reminiscent of the vintage Havana style. As are the cigars, for that matter.

El Triunfador is made by Jaime Garcia at My Father Cigars in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

According to the specs on the Tatuaje website, the No. 4 Robusto is a standard 5 x 50, but it seems a bit undersized for a robusto. Maybe it’s because so many cigar makers are inflating their robustos with an extra leaf or two these days, or maybe it’s because of the box press. The roll is solid and the head and cap are classic Havana style, as expected from My Father Cigars. The wrapper is a rich looking colorado maduro with some fine veins. The burn is perfectly even and leaves a solid light gray ash in its wake.

The draw on one of the two I smoked for the review was loose and drew hot in the last third, but the other one was just right. Both cigars seemed to burn very quickly, however. I can usually stretch a robusto sized cigar out to 45 or 50 minutes, but the No. 4 seemed to have only 30-35 minutes in the tank.

Good to very good construction, with possible consistency issues.

Tasting Notes

The styling of this cigar is classically Cuban, so it makes sense that the flavor would be similar, or as similar as possible outside of Havana. It’s a medium-bodied smoke that starts up with sweet cedar and an earthy muskiness eerily reminiscent of the classic Cuban blends. There is a touch of pepper in the first half-inch, but that quickly dies away. The Nicaraguan zing is present on the tongue for the first half of the stick, but eventually that too gives way to a smoother, but less expressive combination of sweet wood and musk. In the last half some saltiness comes through and at the very end are floral notes similar to what I love in La Riqueza, one of Johnson’s other blends.

Conclusion

El Triunfador combines the best of Nicaraguan tobacco and Cuban style into a medium-bodied package that almost anyone will enjoy. It’s mild enough for a mid-day smoke, but will serve medium-bodied cigar smokers well at any time of day.  It appears to be designed as a mainstream cigar, and it smokes like one. It’s very good, but it’s not going to blow away of any of the top tier smokes in Tatuaje’s portfolio.

Going price for the No. 4 is 8 USD. There is a lot of competition in that price range, but El Triunfador is still a blend worth checking out.

Final Score: 88

Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Robusto

There are so many reviews of this cigar in the blogosphere — all of them positive from what I could see — that I can find no reason not to throw another one on the fire. Unfortunately the volume of material fact about the composition of this cigar exists in inverse proportion to the number of opinions, and the My Father Cigars website is still under construction. (A very classy site, by the way, but every link to actual information about a cigar blend yields only a promise that it is “Coming Soon”. )

But the reliable intel is that this cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua, and is named for (and probably blended by) Jaime Garcia, the son of cigar superhero Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia. The wrapper is a dark Connecticut Broadleaf, and the filler leaf is a combination of tobacco harvested from Garcia’s farms and Oliva’s farms in Nicaragua. Some sites indicate that the binder is Ecuadoran (which would be an unusual choice, but Oliva does grow a huge amount of tobacco in Ecuador) and other sites say the binder is Nicaraguan.

Six sizes are in production, including the newly introduced fireplug format, denominated here as the “super gordo”.

  • Petite Robusto – 4 1/2 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 1/4 x 52
  • Belicoso – 5 1/2 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Toro Gordo – 6 x 60
  • Super Gordo – 5.75 x 66

Construction Notes

It’s not easy to make broadleaf look beautiful, but My Father Cigars does about the best that anyone can to make it presentable. The wrapper is dark, but variegated in color from dark brown to black. No artificial processing here.  There are the expected veins, but they’re fairly discreet by broadleaf standards. The roll is solid, though the cigar seems a bit light in the hand for some reason. The  head of the stick is rounded and the cap is not triple wound. This is very unusual for a cigar from this factory, but it is understandable given the toughness of the leaf.

The draw is excellent, and while the burn wavers a bit it catches up without encouragement. It seems to burn rather quickly. The ash is solid but slightly flaky.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the Jaime Garcia Reserva certainly retains many of the flavors we’re familiar with from his father’s blends. The toro starts up with a dry tannic pinch to the salivary glands, followed by a moderate amount of black pepper on the tongue. The base flavor is earthy, but it is balanced very nicely by the broadleaf’s sweet chocolate aroma.

The mid section continues in the same vein, dry and peppery, though the volume is dropped a few notches on the spice. The sweet earthy flavors momentarily combine to give the impression of pine resin.

The last third focuses on a black coffee flavor as the sweetness dissipates. It finishes a little bit harsh, as if it were serving up a mouthful of grounds rather than a smooth cup o’ joe. The complexity of flavors presented up to this point might have persuaded me to smoke this cigar beyond a prudent point, but I couldn’t help myself.

Conclusion

The Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial robusto is an excellent medium-bodied smoke with an earthy taste on the palate but a sweet broadleaf maduro-style aroma. The blend tastes very much like what one would expect from My Father Cigars, though perhaps a little milder than many of them. It reminded me of a less manly 601 Maduro. 601’s little brother, maybe.

There is a slight raspiness to the smoke that won’t bother My Father aficionados, but I’m hoping that with a little age these will smooth out a bit more. That said, they’re certainly not difficult to smoke now. MSRP appears to be in the 7 USD range. Definitely worth a look for maduro lovers, especially those who enjoy the Garcias’ tannic pinch.

Final Score: 89

Aging Report: Nacionales W

Over the years I have really questioned whether aging a cigar is always worth the effort. I’ve made a committed attempt, but so far I haven’t found it to be uniformly successful. Obviously there are many dedicated proponents of cigar aging, but I was heartened to read that Jose “Don Pepín” Garcia is not one of them. A few years ago he was at an event and a participant asked him if aged cigars were better than freshly rolled sticks. “A ten year old cigar, you might as well smoke paper.” Garcia said that cigars are meant to be enjoyed while the oils and moisture are still present — and it makes sense as a cigar maker that he would say this. He’s blending cigars to be smoked with the qualities that the tobacco has now, not what it will have years from now.

So it is a little ironic that of all the cigars I’ve aged, this one has performed the best over time — Garcia’s Nacionales W El Mundo. I picked up a handful of these in 2006 at the Cigar King in Scottsdale, Arizona, for which the Nacionales is made. I smoked most of them then (you can see the original review here), but this one has been resting quietly in my long-term humidor ever since. The cellophane has taken on a yellowish-brown hue, but aside from that the cigar still looks perfect.

The El Mundo is a 5.5 x 52 robusto with a triple-wound pig-tail cap that makes it look like a Cabaiguan Guapo. The wrapper is a Nicaraguan Corojo 99, and if any of the oils have volatilized over the years it’s not easy to see —  the leaf is supple and displays a nice sheen. The roll is solid, and the draw is as perfect as you can get.  I was surprised to find that the prelight scent of the tobacco is still pungent with earth and musk.

It often takes a few minutes for an aged cigar to awaken after its long slumber in the humidor, but the Nacionales W perked up right away with a dry woody flavor and a dash of black pepper on the tongue. The flavors of this cigar suddenly came back to me — dry tannins, woody spice, and a sweet semi-floral note on the nose. The aroma is complex, exhibiting everything from cocoa to sandalwood.

At the mid-point this cigar is wonderfully expressive, and I think it probably has improved over time. The tannins have dropped off a bit but the pepper lingers on the palate. There is a bready note that I rarely notice in non-Cuban cigars. The body is in the medium range, and even after five years the nicotine kick is still considerable.

The last third of the cigar is earthy with coffee and cocoa-like overtones. The finish is lengthy and the aftertaste somewhat bitter at the very end.

Conclusion

After five years, the Nacionales W shows none of the evanescence that the blender fears — this is a solid smoke that is every bit as complex and enjoyable as it was on its release, if not more so. My only complaint is that I don’t have more of these on ice. With the tremendous surge in Don Pepín’s production it doesn’t seem likely that the blend is exactly the same today, though there’s always hope.

But at least the Nacionales W is still available, presumably in a formulation that is at least close to the one here. This blend is available only from Cigar King, and the El Mundo size sells for around 6 USD each. I’ll be tempted to pick up a few more the next time I swing through the Phoenix area.

Final Score: 90

La Reloba Habano

In Cuba, La Reloba is a well known “peso” cigar, which is what the locals smoke. Peso cigars are more or less like bundled cigars: they are economical unbanded cigars sold in mazos, and they cost around one Cuban peso each. Hence, peso cigar. Cigars for export are generally too expensive for the average Cuban citizen. Come to think of it, Cuban cigars are too expensive for the average American these days as well, which is perhaps what gave My Father Cigars the inspiration to release this economical blend.

Released to little fanfare in April of this year, La Reloba is a Nicaraguan puro available in both Habano and Sumatra wrappers. The press on this cigar has been minimal. I think I saw one paragraph in CA that said, in essence, “Pepin releases cheap smoke” and that’s about it. If nothing else, the diffidence of the mainstream media is nice for the legion of cigar bloggers and our brothers and sisters on the cigar boards who will thereby exercise greater influence on the market. (Think positive, guys.)

Four sizes are available:

  • 5 5/8 x 46 – Corona
  • 5 x 50 – Robusto
  • 6 1/4 x 52 – Toro
  • 6 1/8 x 52 – Torpedo

Construction Notes

La Reloba is a nice looking stick, as one would expect from My Father Cigars. The wrapper is a smooth colorado maduro with a slight sheen, otherwise marred only by a few unobtrusive veins. The roll is solid and the caps are of course triple-wound. The draw is firm, but not tight, and the burn is even. The coronas I’ve been smoking build a long and handsome ash.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The corona opens up with a woody flavor and that trademark Pepin overture — lip smacking tannin and a blast of black pepper. It’s actually pretty restrained compared to higher end smokes from My Father Cigars, but there’s still no mistaking that you’re smoking a Nicaraguan puro.

After an inch or so the spice backs off and the flavor becomes a little more basic: cedar, toasted tobacco flavors, and a touch of cocoa on the nose. The aroma is not as complex as you’d find in the Black Label or the Series JJ, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.

After mellowing in the mid-section, the final third turns up the heat, stoking the fires with hard wood and another dose of pepper. It gets a little aggressive at the band, but again, not in the way Pepin’s heavy hitters do.

Conclusion

When I feel like a medium-bodied Nicaraguan puro in the Pepin style I usually reach for a Vegas Cubanas or a Tatuaje Havana, and I think either of those would surpass La Reloba in a blind taste test.  But one of the most attractive details about La Reloba is the price: the coronas retail for around $4.50 a pop and the torpedos top out around $6.50. That’s outstanding for this level of quality, so the price can not be left out of the equation.

La Reloba is an extremely well constructed cigar available at an excellent price. And while it’s a fine cigar, it’s not as complex as higher-end brands from the same outfit. I think most of us have a balance in our collection between higher priced, complex, gourmet cigars and everyday, affordable, decent smokes. This is one to consider for the everyday job.

Final Score: 87

Nestor Miranda Special Selection “Coffee Break”

Every spring as the temperatures rise I set out on my annual hunt for hot weather smokes, and this year as I was paging through Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 one caught my eye in particular: the Nestor Miranda Special Selection “Coffee Break,” which was awarded last place in the standings. At 4 1/2 x 50 it looked like it might just qualify as a Triple Digit Quick Smoke. In the past I’ve gone to Rocky Patel Sungrown Petite Coronas or Pepin Garcia Black Perlas, but I thought I should probably check this one out as a possible contender.

In the spring of 2008, when I first reviewed the Nestor Miranda Special Selection, I had some trouble pinpointing information on the brand. I had to settle for smoking a quite decent cigar without the background information. Poor me. In 2009 all the mystery surrounding the cigar was dispelled by Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia, who was charged with reblending the Special Selection and is now producing them in his Esteli, Nicaragua factory.

The wrapper is Nicaraguan Habano, both the natural Rosado and the maduro-toned Oscuro. It isn’t clear if this is the same leaf with a different level of processing, or if each version employs a different Nicaraguan Habano leaf altogether. Different, I would guess, but I don’t know for sure. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a three country blend from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the DR.

Despite the fact that this cigar has been reblended, the two original sizes are still listed in the roster on the Miami Cigar & Company website. They are made conspicuous by having no frontmarks assigned to them, though some retailers are using the frontmarks from the original blend for these vitolas… it makes me wonder if boxes of the original blend might still be floating around out there somewhere.

The sizes as listed on the Miami Cigar & Co. website:

  • Lancero:  7.5 x 40
  • Unnamed: 5.5 x 54 (the old  “robusto grande”)
  • Unnamed: 6 x 60 (the old “super toro”)
  • Ruky: 5 5/8 x 48 x 52 (figurado)
  • Coffee Break: 4 ½ x 50

There is also a limited 20th Anniversary edition, the 7 x 56 “Danno”, that some of you probably remember from the promotion last year.

Construction Notes

Both the natural Rosado and the Oscuro versions are well made sticks, though they both suffer from a bot burn after the mid-point. The Rosado wrapper exhibits a few small veins, but it glistens with oil and is quite appealing. The Oscuro is drier and more rustic in appearance, which is typical of finely aged maduro leaf.

Both versions are consistently rolled and bear the tight triple cap we’ve come to expect from Don Pepin’s factories. The Rosado burns perfectly and builds a solid ash; the Oscuro wavers a bit more, the ash is flakier, and the column tends to crack after an inch or so. (These are also traits typical of maduro.)

Both versions of the Special Selection Coffee Break draw easily and consistently, but they also tend to heat up at the mid-point. I may be smoking these a little too quickly, or it may be the dimensions of the cigar – or both – but I haven’t yet been able to remedy this problem by slowing my pace.

Tasting Notes

Like many cigars with the same interior blend but different wrappers, the Rosado version is quite distinct from the Oscuro. The Rosado starts out with a mild, woody flavor that puckers the cheek lining with tannin. The Oscuro, on the other hand, opens up with a rich chocolate flavor. After a few puffs both of these initial flavors step back, mellow a little, and concentrate on a smooth woody flavor.

The aroma of the Rosado is lighter than the Oscuro, but with its notes of cedar and honey it is slightly more nuanced as well. The Oscuro centers on a sweet cocoa to chocolate scent.

The second half of both of these small robustos is more intense, but neither goes beyond medium in body. The Rosado turns to a smooth nutty flavor with a smattering of pepper toward the band, while the Oscuro serves up the espresso with the same smattering of pepper, finishing with some char in the last act.

Conclusion

Both the Rosado and Oscuro versions of the Coffee Break are fine short smokes, but with their tendency to heat up in the second leg they might require more time than the typical coffee break allows. That aside, I found the Oscuro to be more complex and slightly more enjoyable than the Rosado.

5 to 6 USD per stick seems a bit pricey for a short robusto, but it’s not outrageous considering the quality of the cigar. The question for me is whether the Special Selection Coffee Break will be reselected as next year’s Triple Digit Quick Smoke. The answer: probably not.

Final Scores:

Rosado: 85

Oscuro: 87

Aging Report: Troya Clasico LXIII

One of the exciting things about being a cigar smoker is that there’s always something new on the shelf, and cigar makers take full advantage of our excitable nature. It doesn’t matter to me if a cigar has been hailed as the Second Coming or panned like a Uwe Boll movie — if Pepin Garcia made it, I’m buying it. At least once.

But this phenomenon is not without its drawbacks. There is a commercial law of conservation at work here that says for every new blend that hits the shelves, an older one must go. Shop keepers struggle to find shelf space, and consumers have only so much money in their wallets. At the end of the day it’s a popularity contest. The winners are restocked and the losers go to the discount warehouses.

It’s disappointing to see the sun set on a great blend, but Pepin Garcia’s Troya Clasico is about to disappear into the glare. The company that distributed the blend was acquired by Britain’s Imperial Tobacco, which acquired Altadis, which is why there are still Troya brands in circulation — but they’re not Pepin’s blend. The newest Troya is the Clasico Limited Edition, blended by the late great Frank Llaneza. It’s probably a good smoke, but it’s not the same cigar.

It looks like the remaining Pepin Clasicos were picked up by one of the usual suspects (JR Cigar) and have been on the chopping block for a few months now. Late last year I picked up a couple boxes of the churchills at a cut rate price, and I may have to double up on that soon, before they’re gone forever.

But before I wash away in a tide of nostalgia I thought I should muster up an aging report on this great cigar. I broke a few of these out of long-term storage to see what three years has done for them.

Construction Notes

The wrapper on this cigar is not quite as supple as it used to be, but I’d put that down to less than optimal storage conditions. My vinotemp does a pretty good job, but it’s not a locker at Alfred Dunhill.  The roll is solid and it clips cleanly. The draw is perfect, the burn is straight, and the ash is built like a dowel rod. My only complaint, if I have to have one, is that it burns a little quickly. But even at the band it doesn’t get hot.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

After three years this cigar retains most of its identifying characteristics — primarily wood with a sweet, beany aroma, something like caramel and coffee. The Troya Clasico hasn’t undergone any radical transformations, but the bitterness is completely gone. Fresh Pepin blends almost always have a tannic edge to them, and although this cigar wasn’t over the top in that regard, it was still a touch bitter. The years have taken that edge off completely.

In the second and last thirds the flavor turns to leather, but the sweetness and mild-mannered nature of the cigar continues on. It’s smooth as butter, about medium in body, and easy on the nicotine. The flavor starts to muddy at the band, but that is after 60 minutes of pure pleasure.

Conclusion

My opinion of the Troya Clasico hasn’t really changed too much — I picked it as the second best cigar of 2007, and I don’t regret that ranking.

For me, a new Pepin Garcia blend is like a new Francis Ford Coppola movie. I don’t always like the movie, but my respect for his talent dictates that I will get in line on opening night and watch whatever it is that he’s decided to do. I feel the same way about Pepin. A lot of what he blends is too strong for my taste, but for me the Troya Clasico hits all the right notes, and it doesn’t play them too loud.

It’s one of the nicer cigars I’ve smoked this year, and it’s sad to see it go.

Final Score: 93

Siboney Reserve Robusto

The original Siboney was a pre-revolution Cuban cigar, named for the small  town east of Santiago de Cuba. Interestingly, Siboney is where U.S. forces landed in the first days of the Spanish-American war. Decades later it was also the site where Castro gathered with his men before their attack on the Moncada Barracks, generally considered the start of the Cuban Revolution.

The original Cuban Siboney cigar is no longer in production, but that of course bars no one from riding its illustrious coattails to marketing bliss. (Illustrious may be overstating it. So may bliss.) Famous Smoke appears to have the rights to the brand name (these people notwithstanding) and they market two different blends under the Siboney name.

The “traditional” Siboney is a Honduran bundle cigar made by Alec Bradley. The Siboney Reserve is a Nicaraguan near-puro made at Pepin Garcia’s Nicaraguan factory, My Father, in Esteli. The Reserve is packed in boxes, but it’s still designed to be an economy cigar.

The Reserve version’s best feature, in my opinion, is its wrapper — an aromatic Nicaraguan Habano Rosado leaf. The filler is Nicaraguan corojo, and it appears to have a double binder: Nicaraguan Criollo ’98 and Honduran Habano.

Only three sizes are currently in production:

  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6 a/2 x 54

Construction Notes

The Siboney Reserve Robusto is a nice looking stick, but it doesn’t really compare to higher-end cigars coming out of the My Father factory. The wrapper is a slightly mottled colorado maduro that is a little less ruddy than what I would expect from the “Rosado” billing.  It’s somewhat dry and veiny, but otherwise attractive enough.

The trademark Pepin triple-cap is present, but it’s not as nicely finished as other Pepin smokes. The head is rounded with a patch on top. The draw is on the loose side, and one of these was seriously underfilled.  The burn is too quick, but it manages to keep the heat under control. The ash is crumbly, loose, and flaky.

Overall fair construction. This is a long-filler cigar, but without prior knowledge of this I’d guess it was a well-built Cuban sandwich. A little disappointing.

Tasting Notes

The Siboney Reserve Robusto is a fairly straightforward, medium-bodied, woody Nicaraguan style cigar. It opens up a little grassy with an oaky aroma and a whiff of vanilla. Some light pepper notes crop up after half an inch or so, but it is quite mild for a Pepin blend.

The middle section is woody with some light spice, but mostly it tastes of simple tobacco. The aroma is the centerpiece here, maintaining a steady flavor of wood with continuing hints of vanilla. The smoke is rough on the tongue at times.

The last third is dry and peppery, but the oaky aroma shines through. Half an inch before the band it develops a papery aftertaste and quickly turns ashy .

Conclusion

The Siboney Reserve is not a bad cigar, but it’s not a great one either, especially coming from a factory that produces some of the best cigars in Nicaragua. This one reminded me a bit of the Tatuaje Series P, the broke man’s Tatuaje. I recommend to all broke men (and women) being one myself (broke, not a woman) that smoking one or two really worthy cigars a week is far better than to smoke garbage all week long. Not that this cigar is garbage exactly, but it’s not a DPG Black either.

Boxes of the robusto are priced well at around 80 USD, which makes it a near-bargain cigar, but you can probably do much better without looking too far.

Final Score: 75

Casa Royale Crown

I love those cheesy ads for no-name cigars that proclaim they are made by “the Number 1 Cigar Maker in Nicaragua,” (or Miami, or the DR.) No names please! That won’t be necessary, because we all KNOW who that cigar maker is. I’m so excited I can barely get my credit card out.

Casa Royale is not advertised that way, but the name Jose “Don Pepín” Garcia is often associated with this “Number One” cigar maker. I haven’t had the opportunity to smoke everything that has rolled off the tables of My Father Cigars, but I wouldn’t balk at the chance. I’d even try that odd mixed-filler cuban sandwich cigar, made with floor sweepings and yesterday’s La Prensa, if the blend was blessed by the Pope of Esteli himself.

And to be honest, there are a few DPG blends I don’t particularly care for. (How Ambos Mundos made it on CA’s top 25 list is a mystery to me.) But a misstep here or there has not yet cooled my ardor for this great blender.  So when I saw that a “Six-Pack” of these Casa Royale Crowns could be found at Holt’s for just over 20 bucks, I took the bait.

Casa Royale is a Nicaraguan puro with a sungrown Esteli wrapper leaf that supposedly is the same one used on the Tatuaje Black. Whether that is an apology of sorts for the rustic appearance of the wrapper, or just plain hooey, is for you to decide. In any case, this Holt’s exclusive is available in five sizes:

  • Ace – 5.625 x 46
  • Aristocrat – 5.5 x 52
  • Crown – 5 x 50
  • Imperial – 6 x 50
  • Prestige – 7.75 x 49

Construction Notes

I’m trying to think of what color these cigars might be — colorado amarillo? Amarillo claro? They’re a light to medium shade of brown with a yellowish tinge, similar to some Connecticut Shade wrappers I’ve seen, but much less suave. The wrapper on the Casa Royale is rough, as is to be expected from a sungrown leaf, but it’s much lighter than most sungrown leaf, and it’s quite dry as well.

The head is finished nicely, but not as neatly as many “premium” cigars from the Garcias. The roll is firm with a slight box press, but the cigar feels a little  bit light — this did not affect the burn, however, which was slow, even and consistent.

As I cut one of these robustos my thumb slipped and I really bungled the cut. Despite a relatively fragile wrapper I was able to slick the torn wrapper together with saliva and by some small miracle it held together for the duration of the smoke. That’s quality construction.

Tasting Notes

The first few puffs are typical Pepin — tart on the palate. Gradually I notice notes of sweet cedar on the nose, which makes an interesting companion to the greener flavors on the tongue. There is some vanilla in the aroma as well, with a touch of cinammon.  The smoke is smooth and medium in body.

The middle stage continues in the same direction, smooth and woody with vanilla overtones.

This robusto is suprisingly smooth and mild-mannered up to the final third, where the spice picks up. Some white pepper tingles the sinuses while the cedary base flavor continues to hold. There are some subtler spicy notes as well — the cinnamon from the first third appears again, and brings with it a touch of sandalwood.  It stays smooth and even to the nub.

Conclusion

Casa Royale is one of Pepín’s milder and less complex smokes, but it is still quite flavorful and the construction is excellent, as usual. Tart flavors on the palate are nicely balanced with sweet ones on the nose, and the subtle but exotic aromatics make this an interesting cigar.

Best of all, this cigar is truly affordable. Boxes of 25 retail for 127 USD, and if you run you’ll find six-packs on sale now for 21.95.  Factor in that price and this is a great deal. It sure beats scrambling for the “No. 1 Cigar Maker’s” leftovers .

Final Score: 88

San Cristobal Seleccion del Sol by Ashton

When José “Don Pepín” García first started making cigars for Ashton in 2007 a few of us speculated that his commercial success would change him. I guess we’re used to seeing our small-town heroes ruined by large-scale success. And as some of Pepin’s smaller clients were shed for blue chip partners like Ashton, we anticipated that the unique flavor and superb construction of cigars like Padilla’s 1932 would become a distant memory.

Instead it appears that Pepin and family are using their well-earned capital to invest in infrastructure, and the quality of their cigars has not diminished a bit. Equally inspiring is the fact that some of Pepin’s former clients, like Padilla, are forging new paths and doing very well on their own as well.

Pepin now produces five blends under three different brands for Ashton —  San Cristobal,  La Aroma de Cuba, and Benchmade (an economy mixed-filler cigar.)  The original La Aroma de Cuba has been phased out and was replaced this year by Pepin’s new blend, which is in addition to the Edicion Especial line which was introduced in 2008. The San Cristobal Selección del Sol is new for 2009 and adds another member to the San Cristobal family.

The Garcias have long aspired to sow what they reap, and as a natural development of their previous success they are now cultivating tobacco on their Estrella farm in Esteli. The San Cristobal Seleccion del Sol features one of the first fruits of this new endeavor: the sun-grown wrapper that graces this cigar.

Like the first San Cristobal, the Seleccion del Sol is a Nicaraguan puro, but it is in fact an entirely new blend.  Only three sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Belicoso – 5.5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Estrella Farms wrapper on the Seleccion del Sol is not much to look at — it’s dry and drab, and much lighter in appearance than the standard San Cristobal. The foot band slips off easily, which is very much appreciated. The roll is excellent, as expected, and the cap is wound to a blunt tip. The draw is fine.

I rarely find anything negative to note about the construction of any Pepin-made smokes, but I had issues with the burn on these. The foot of the cigar did not want to light evenly (even with a torch) and thence forward the burn was uneven, required correction several times, and went out a couple times when I wasn’t paying close attention. What we have here, ladies and gentleman, is a cigar with a crappy burn. And the ash is flaky to boot.

Overall construction: only fair.

Tasting Notes

The Selección del Sol exhibits a lot of the flair associated with sun-grown wrappers, and while it compares favorably in this regard to Ashton’s VSG and Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown cigars, it doesn’t quite live up to those standard bearers.

The first third is dry but sweet with a tingle on the tongue. The aroma is of sweet wood, which blends nicely with the minty note on the palate. There is a hint of a bite and just a dash of pepper, which seems unusually understated for a DPG blend. The smoke is smooth though, and the nicotine is moderate.

The middle section continues in the same vein, doling out lots of woody smoke with a sweet, fresh finish. There is some spice on the palate, but the woody flavors and the sun-grown zing take center stage. The resting smoke is very pleasant, even for the non-smokers in the vicinity who for once are not glaring at me.

The final stage is earthier on the palate, with continued sweet wood on the nose. The sensation on the tongue is interesting — almost like the effect of carbonation, and the overall effect is spirituous. Like champagne, if a champagne could taste like humus and sweet wood. The last half-inch into the band area gets a little harsh on the throat, but other than that this is a smooth tasting smoke.

Conclusion

This is a really unusual cigar from DPG. The burn is sub-standard by comparison with his other lines, and while the flavors are certainly interesting, they’re not what the typical Pepin fan is after. There is little here of the cocoa and black peppery bang that his cigars are best known for. This doesn’t make it a bad cigar by any means, but in my opinion it’s not really what he does best.

I think that if it were made by anyone else I would have rated the Selección del Sol more highly, but I expect more from The Great One. Maybe it isn’t fair, but when the man hits home runs every game, to get a double and a base hit are a little disappointing.

Final Score: 84