Condega Corojo 1999 Toro

Condega

Next up in this series of cigars from Tabacalera Tropical (aka Casa Fernandez, aka Aganorsa) is the Condega Corojo 1999 (2006 Series.) For more information about Tabacalera Tropical and Aganorsa, see last week’s review of the Lempira Fuerte.

Since Condega is the least well known region of Nicaragua’s three primary growing regions, it’s nice to see it get some name recognition. The Condega Corojo is not only a Nicaraguan puro, it’s a Nicaraguan Corojo puro — a cigar composed entirely of corojo leaf from Condega, Jalapa, and Esteli, Nicaragua.

From what I hear, Condega has appeared in more than one formulation, but the Corojo 1999 was unveiled sometime in 2004. The version that I smoked for this review was the 2006 series.

For a long time I associated the term “corojo” with power — maybe that came from smoking Camacho’s Corojo blend — but the Condega cigar sets the record straight once and for all. Corojo is after all just a black tobacco varietal; a cigar primarily composed of corojo ligero is going to be a powerhouse. A more balanced blend of corojo volado and seco leaves will be a lighter cigar, which is actually what Condega is — a medium bodied cigar with fairly mild strength.

Condega “Cuban Seed Corojo 1999” is available in four sizes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Churchill – 7 x 50

Condega2

Construction Notes

The Condega Corojo Toro is a nice looking stick, but I have to join the growing chorus of complaint about foot bands. If a company wants to use them, fine, but make sure they are applied in such a way that they can be easily removed or slipped off. These cigars have delicate wrappers, and both samples cracked when I removed the foot band. Once I got over that initial irritation, I really liked the look of this cigar. The wrapper is smooth and attractive, similar to Connecticut shade but darker and thinner. The triple cap is attractive, though it also cracked slightly when I cut the stick prior to smoking. Fortunately the crack didn’t grow beyond that, but there’s no doubt that this is a very finicky wrapper leaf. The draw was fine on both samples; the burn was even and the ash was solid.

Overall excellent construction. (Incidentally, reviews of this cigar have in the past zeroed in on faulty construction. Evidently the factory is employing better quality control these days.)

Tasting Notes

I think this might be the lightest Nicaraguan puro I’ve ever smoked — the smoke texture is medium-bodied, or becomes that way eventually, but this cigar has only the slightest kick to it. It starts out mild and smooth with an acidic twang typical of Nicaraguan cigars. There is caramel on the nose and a touch of cocoa on the palate.

The middle section of the cigar showcases a stellar aroma — soft woody spices that remind me of Pepin Garcia’s El Centurion cigar. The underlying flavor is toasty with a hint of leather, but the aroma is where the action is. This is a sweetheart of a cigar.

The last third gets a little more serious, but not by much. The acidic accent becomes more pronounced, accompanied by a hint of black pepper and some sweetness on the front palate. The body of the cigar peaks at about a medium, but this cigar never really flexes much muscle at all. This toro is all about finesse, not power.

Conclusion

The Condega Corojo 1999 shares many of the nuances of Don Pepin Garcia’s cigars, but none of the strength. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your preferences. While the overall experience is pretty mellow, the aroma is quite dramatic: mild to medium bodied smokers will enjoy this cigar a lot and others may find it a pleasant morning or mid-day smoke. Five to six dollars is a reasonable hit for this stick, but it is a little hard to find. If your local tobacconist carries Tropical products, definitely give it a shot.

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Final Score: 89

Lempira Fuerte Robusto

Lempira

When Pedro Martin stepped off his flight from Puerto Rico into the -17 degree cold of a Detroit winter he knew it was time to head south again. Soon after leaving Cuba in 1961 Martin found work with a business associate in Detroit, but it wasn’t long before he planted roots in Miami, working for various tobacco outfits until he finally started Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

One of the first cigar shops I patronized as a neophyte stogie chomper was a small discount cigarette shop that had a tiny humidor. I knew next to nothing about cigars, but I grew fond of a cigar they sold called Maya. It turns out that this is an old Tropical Tobacco blend. Later on I found a cheap smoke called V Centennial that I enjoyed as well (even though one bundle arrived with a bonus lesson in tobacco beetle containment.) Also a Tropical cigar, and a good one.

Since then I’ve enjoyed many of Tropical’s blends, as well as many of the other cigars that are made with Aganorsa leaf, so I thought I’d go straight to the source and survey the Tropical product line.¬† But first a little more about Aganorsa.

AGANORSA and Tabacalera Tropical

When the Sandinista government came to power in Nicaragua, they began the familiar and disturbing process of nationalizing private industry, including tobacco growing and processing. The Cuban government traded assistance in the form of native Cuban seed and expertise in exchange for foodstuffs and other items difficult to acquire under the U.S. embargo. At that time the tobacco industry was known as TAINSA and operated in many of the areas where Nicaragua’s best tobacco is grown. Unfortunately these were also areas beset by political unrest and violence.

Around the same time, Eduardo Fernandez and his brother built and presided over one of the largest fast food chains in Europe, a giant called Telepizza. Starting from a single pizza joint in Madrid, the company became the second largest fast food chain in Spain (after McDonalds), and then spread to other countries. When he sold his share in that company in the late 90’s, the Sandinistas were gone and Fernandez was in an excellent position to acquire some of these old TAINSA fields and start a new venture with Aganorsa.

Fernandez brought in agricultural and fermentation experts from Cuba to help get his project started. Eventually he would also acquire Tropical Tobacco from Pedro Martin, and with it another valuable asset — Pedro Martin himself. The result was an enormous bank of tobacco expertise, rich fields in Esteli and Jalapa, and old-fashioned Cuban methods of processing and rolling cigars. Tropical Tobacco later became Tabacalera Tropical, which is now subsumed by Casa Fernandez and is part of the Aganorsa Group as a whole. (The precise business affiliations are hard to pin down, but I think that’s how it goes.)

Aganorsa leaf is praised and highly sought after by makers of full bodied, Cuban style cigars — some of Aganorsa’s best known customers include El Rey de Los Habanos, Padilla, and Illusione. Though each of these cigar makers has a distinctive style, the similarity is unmistakeable. It’s Aganorsa.

Lempira

The lempira is the currency of Honduras, so naturally the Lempira cigar is entirely Nicaraguan. The discrepancy is probably due to the fact that this cigar has changed composition over the years. It’s one of the oldest brand names in the Tropical catalog, blended by Pedro Martin not long after he first formed Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

This incarnation of the Lempira is still blended by Pedro Martin, but it’s a slightly heftier blend that was introduced in 2004 as the Lempira Fuerte. The robustos I smoked for this review were from the 2006 vintage.

Lempira2

Construction Notes

This is a seriously oily cigar. The maduro wrapper on the Lempira Fuerte is a very dark brown that verges on black near the seams. It’s quite striking. The roll is solid, but the cap exhibits none of the Cuban “finesse” that I was sort of expecting. It’s functional and applied well, but it’s none too pretty. Shearing off the cap I found the draw to be just right. And while the burn is a little erratic the ash is solid and doesn’t flake. I can also attest to this robusto’s durability: I accidentally dropped it in the sand while reaching for the ashtray and the only damage it sustained was to the ash (hence no first-inch ash pic.)

Overall very good construction.

Tasting notes

From the first puff I realized this cigar was going to be one of those very charry tasting maduros — the aroma is bittersweet and woodsy, with a flavor that graduates from fairly mild to rather strong at the smoke’s conclusion. The flavor is somewhat nondescript at first — a little earth, sweet chalk maybe, with a dry finish. The body of this cigar is also lighter than I expected, but it does eventually ramp it up to about a medium.

The middle section features dark roasted coffee — Vienna roast, verging on burnt — with peppery spice on the upper palate. I don’t retrohale most cigars, but this one gains entrance into my sinuses anyway. Intentional retrohaling would probably not be advised with this cigar. The flavors are increasingly bitter on the palate and the sweetness from the wrapper has a hard time maintaining the balance.

By the last section this cigar starts tasting more like a charcoal briquette than anything else. At times I thought I detected lighter fluid, but I think that was my imagination. There is a rich meaty aroma that I did enjoy, but it is completely overpowered by the bitter char taste up front. I had a hard time finishing this one.

Lempira3

Final Score: 79

Conclusion

The Lempira Fuerte isn’t a bad cigar, but the flavors here are a little too one-dimensional and bitter for me. I can see how someone who likes the dark bitter semi-sweet flavors of some maduro cigars might get a bang out of this one, but for me it was just too burnt tasting. It scores very well on construction and appearance, however. It’s just not for me.

Up next in this series of Tabacalera Tropical reviews: Condega 2006.


JFR – “Just For Retailers” Corona Gorda

jfr.jpg

I was trolling for goodies in a local cigar shop the other day and happened to notice an unfinished crate crammed inconspicuously into the corner under some big-ticket Ashtons. The box was filled with toro sized cigars. I didn’t see a brand advertised, and they didn’t have bands. What they did have was alluringly oily wrappers, beautifully rounded heads, and triple caps finished with tight neat pig tails. And the feet were flagged. Sitting nicely in the box they looked like a bunch of shoeless orphans getting ready to go to church.

When I asked after their pedigree, the counter guy said “They’re called JFRs. Four something a stick. You can hardly buy a cigar for four bucks.” This was not exactly a glowing endorsement, but they looked sweet, and yeah, the guy is right. Four bucks is not much for a handmade cigar these days.

JFR stands for “Just For Retailers,” and they mean it. Don’t look for them online. They’re made by Tabacalera Tropical, and originally they were blended by none other than Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia. Or so the story goes.

Pedro Martin successfully escaped the Castro regime in the early 60’s and subsequently spent almost two decades in the American tobacco industry before he entered the cigar market with Tropical Tobacco in 1978. Martin has produced cigars at various times in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Central America, and has had his hand in the making of brands as diverse as Avo and Ashton (at Tabadom) and the current stable of Tropical blends like Lempira and Indianhead.

“Don Pepin” Garcia’s first employer after his exodus from Cuba in 2001 was Eduardo Fernandez’ Aganorsa in Esteli, Nicaragua — the same Aganorsa which in 2002 acquired Martin’s Tropical, which at that point became Tabacalera Tropical. It seems most likely that if Garcia blended the original JFR, it was during this time. And the fact that Fernandez is still Garcia’s primary tobacco supplier lends the JFR blend an even darker shadow of Pepin ancestry. But no birth certificate.

Tropical doesn’t acknowledge these cigars on their website, and an email for information was unsuccessful as well, so I remain unsure of the JFR’s constitution and provenance. The word on the street is that these are made in Honduras with a Nicaraguan corojo/criollo blend. After smoking a few of these, that sounds quite plausible. There are reportedly four sizes: robusto, toro, supertoro (corona gorda) and torpedo.

The wrappers on these cigars are really attractive — a nice sheen of oil enhances a slightly toothy surface throughout. The few I’ve smoked so far have been competently constructed, though one had a significant soft spot and uneven roll. Despite this it drew well and burned without a hitch.

The JFR introduces itself with a spicy but smooth flavor; it’s not as peppery as a Pepin, but it has that Nicaraguan bite. The base flavor is leathery with spicy accents. Over the course of the cigar this flavor creeps along and builds while the smoke texture gathers weight and grows from medium to full in body. The aroma of this cigar is somewhat sweet and combines really well with the leathery foundation.

About halfway through this smoke I sensed the strength beginning to sneak up on me and I noticed a little harshness on the throat. The spices get darker at this point, more peppery, more Pepiney. There are some coffee flavors at this point, and maybe a little hazelnut on the nose. By the last third the smoke is very rich, quite strong and the harshness begins to mount. I normally put the butt to bed at this point.

More than a Pepin blend, this one reminds me of Illusione. Either that or a St. Luis Rey Regios. It’s not as complex or as refined as the Illusione (I’m thinking of the 888) and it’s bolder than the Regios, but there seem to me some similarities. If you told me these were Illusione “rejects” I might just believe you.

Rejects or not, they’re decent smokes for $4 or less. The counter guy undersold these, but they appear to sell themselves just fine.

-cigarfan