Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive

Herrera Esteli TAA

Several Drew Estate blends have put the spotlight on Connecticut Broadleaf, most notably the Liga Privada No. 9, but the Herrera Esteli TAA is the first cigar blended by Willy Herrera for Drew Estate to use a broadleaf wrapper.  (The original Herrera Esteli utilizes Ecuadorian Habano and the Norteño uses San Andres maduro.)

Before joining Drew Estate in 2011, Herrera was known for his work at El Titan de Bronze in  Miami, but he has also created blends for Ernesto Padilla, Nestor Miranda, La Palina, and others.

The TAA was designed as an exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America and was released at the TAA convention in April of this year.

Beneath the broadleaf wrapper is a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and the filler is a blend of the usual Nicaraguan suspects — Esteli (surprise!), Jalapa, and Condega. Only one size is in production, a 6 x 52 toro, and the cigar is sold in 12-count boxes. The cigar is made at the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is a little rough but it oozes oil and has every appearance of richness. The head of the cigar is rounded, perfectly symmetrical, and the cap is almost seamless. The roll is solid and the draw is firm but easy. The cigar burns evenly and leaves a solid, light gray ash. The rollers in La Gran Fabrica have clearly taken extra care with this one.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Herrera Esteli TAA 2

Tasting Notes

The TAA Exclusive takes broadleaf seriously, and it takes full advantage of the woody sweetness of this stellar leaf from the first puff. This is a very smooth smoking toro; it develops a little bit of spice in the last third, but up to that point it really focuses on the strengths of its broadleaf wrapper.

The cigar is earthy on the palate, but the aftertaste is quite mild. The mouthfeel is somewhat waxy — the earthiness on the tongue, sweet woody char on the nose, and the waxy texture combine to create an effect that reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle.

The cigar develops a little more body and picks up some spice and some coffee notes in the last third. It isn’t a particularly complex cigar and the flavor transitions are not dramatic; the flavors are focused and tend not to stray too much from the ones that it opens with.

Herrera esteli 3

Conclusion

The Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive is a broadleaf lover’s classic. It isn’t as bold as the Liga Privada No. 9, but it’s far more elegant than Nica Rustica. It’s rich, perfectly constructed, and easy to smoke. My kind of cigar, actually. On the other hand, if you find smooth billows of humus, sweet wet wood, freshly ground coffee, and a smattering of pepper at the finale a little too tedious, you’ll be saving yourself $12 USD per stick by leaving this one at the shop.

Final Score: 90

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nica Rustica by Drew Estate

Nica Rustica was released originally in 2013 in one size only — the “Brujito” — a corona gorda with a pig-tail cap and a flagged foot. Additional sizes followed, including a large belicoso called “Belly” (after the 1998 crime film starring rap icons Nas and DMX), and a 4.5 x 50 short robusto.

Nica Rustica

As befitting its name, the cigar celebrates Nicaragua, and Esteli in particular. The little figure of the “brujito” which adorns boxes and bands of Nica Rustica is a symbol of the city taken from a nearby petroglyph. I was lucky enough to find a descriptive anatomy of the brujito, which I at first took to be a child’s representation of Jonathan Drew. (I was of course relieved to learn that Jonathan does not have a cola de diablo.)

Also befitting its name, Nica Rustica is not a rico suave kind of stick. Rustic is the word. The Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is a rich and oily colorado maduro with veins that stand out like cellular structures in a stained microscope slide. Beneath this is a San Andres binder, and the beating heart of the cigar is, naturally, Nicaraguan filler, from both Esteli and Jalapa. The parejo sizes have pig-tail caps.

I have smoked this blend in the Belly and Short Robusto sizes, and while they are similar in style and substance, I much prefer the little guy when the thermometer is pushing 110. A subtle smoke this is not.

Construction Notes

One aspect of this cigar that is not rustic is the construction. The roll is solid — no rifts and valleys as I expected — and the draw is excellent. It burns slowly and generates billowing clouds of smoke. The ash is solid but a little bit flaky.

Overall construction: Excellent

Nica Rustica 2

Tasting Notes

The flavors here are rich and tasty, but not subtle or complex. The smoke is slightly sweet and the aroma initially reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle: a bit waxy, with an earthy or sulfuric edge. Cocoa eventually comes to the fore, vying with black pepper on the palate. The spiciness gives way after an inch or two and makes room for a pleasantly meaty flavor that takes the cigar the distance.

Conclusion

Nica Rustica is not overwhelming in terms of power, but it is quite rich and at times a bit harsh. While it might benefit from some aging, this seems in line with the character of the blend, so I wouldn’t wait too long. Don’t expect Danny Trejo to age into Andy Garcia, no matter how long you put him away. (And don’t try to put Danny away or…well, just don’t.)

Ranging from the $4-5 range for the short robusto to about $7 for the belicoso, Nica Rustica is an affordable cigar, especially from a manufacturer whose prices are increasing with demand.

Nica Rustica 3

Final Score: 86

 

 

CAO Flathead Camshaft

CAO Flathead

CAO introduced its newest blend a few weeks ago, a square pressed cigar inspired by the flathead engine design made famous by Ford in the 40s and 50s.  As I’ve been told by greasy guys in coveralls who know way more about this stuff than I do, the flathead engine design is not exclusive to Ford, or even to cars, but it seems likely that the guys at CAO were thinking of Ford’s flathead V8 and not lawn mowers when they were dreaming up their newest line.

The team at CAO has been busy in the last few years, releasing OSA Sol and the CAO Concert, both blends that I’ve enjoyed a lot. The Flathead line is strikingly different in appearance. The wrapper is a very dark and well matured Connecticut Broadleaf, and the head of the cigar is, to no one’s surprise, flat. But it’s not just flat in the Cuban style, it’s as flat as the foot, so that the head has no shoulders to speak of. It looks like the head of the cigar was pressed when the wrapper was still wet.  I wondered at first if this might present clipping problems, but  I’ve honestly had bigger problems with a socket wrench. (My mechanical skills leave a lot to be desired.)

Under the hood is an Habano Connecticut binder, beneath which roars an engine powered by Nicaraguan ligero. Four sizes are in production:

  • V642 Piston (6.5” x 42)
  • V554 Camshaft (5.5” x 54)
  • V660 Carb (6” x 60)
  • V770 Big Block (7” x 70)

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is uniformly dark — almost black — and oily. A simple guillotine cut worked surprisingly well for me, but a punch cut would be the most intelligent way to go.  The Flathead is square pressed, which can sometimes lead to burn problems, but the cigar burns evenly for the most part. The draw is excellent, and the burn is slow.

This cigar pumps out an enormous volume of smoke, which might be a consideration if you’re smoking indoors. It’s hard enough to be discreet with a cigar, but you won’t get away with this one in the men’s room.  (Or the ladies’ room. Sorry, ladies.)

Overall construction: Excellent

CAO Flathead

Tasting Notes

The Flathead Camshaft opens with a raisiny flavor. It’s sweet and smooth, but the smoke is heavy. It reminds me a little of the St. Luis Rey Serie G Maduro —  the room smell is quite earthy in comparison to the flavors on the palate. I like this aspect of the cigar a lot.  Gradually the fruity flavor darkens — more prunes than raisins — and it picks up a piney overtone.  The strength of the cigar is solidly medium, despite the heaviness of the smoke texture.

The middle section retains the sweetness of its opening act but adds a leathery, meaty quality. A touch of earthiness contributes a charcoal-like quality. It’s like sitting next door to a barbecue party. Pretty soon you’re breaking open those t-bones you were saving for Sunday.

The last section is a little spicier on the tongue, but more chocolatey on the nose. The coffee and chocolate flavors gradually die down and the cigar fades into char.

Conclusion

CAO’s new Flathead blend is a full-bodied, medium-strength cigar with a sweet and potent aroma. The Camshaft vitola, an oversized robusto, burns slowly and develops enough complexity that it kept my interest for just over an hour. In the final analysis I find it to be just a little too sweet for my palate, but I love the room smell it leaves behind. (As long as the room is my garage and not my living room.)

It’s a nicely balanced cigar, and certainly one to try for fans of Connecticut broadleaf maduro.

Final Score: 87
CAO Flathead

La Casita Criolla

The wrapper leaf on a cigar is like the sear on a carefully cooked piece of beef — it’s often what makes the difference between a bland piece of protein and a sizzling dinner centerpiece. But the sear must be done right — overdo it and your dinner guest will send that Porterhouse right back to the kitchen. Like most of the fine things in life, flavors need balance.

So it’s a puzzle to me when a cigar maker decides to focus on one ingredient in the recipe to the exclusion of the other components, the ones that usually give a cigar balance. We’ve seen cigars that are almost exclusively ligero like Oliva’s Cain, and we’ve seen cigars that are 100% maduro, like Camacho’s Triple Maduro. I don’t care for either of them, and lack of balance is one of the reasons why.

So what possessed Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars to create a cigar made entirely of Connecticut Broadleaf?

I’m not sure, but I was curious to find out. Connecticut broadleaf is prized by manufacturers of everything from machine-made Toppers to Fuente Anejos. It’s thick, it’s ugly, and it’s one of the most expensive tobaccos for blenders to use. But heavens, it’s tasty. (My apologies to Garrison Keillor.)

La Casita Criolla, an old Cuban brand name acquired by Johnson for this blend, means something like “the little native house.” That’s one brand name that is better left untranslated. I’m as puzzled by the name as I am by the idea of a broadleaf puro, but it does conjure up an image of rusticity which is reflected in the cigar’s appearance.

La Casita Criolla is made for Tatuaje by My Father Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua, and was released last year in three sizes, all comfortably under a 50 ring gauge:

HCB Corona – 5 1/8 x 42
HCBC Corona Gorda – 5 5/8 x 46
HCBF Short Churchill – 6 1/2 x 48

Construction Notes

The HCB Corona is rough and marred with imperfections, which is typical of broadleaf. It’s maduro in color tone, a little bit oily, and has a rustic but rich appearance. The roll is firm, but staring down the barrel it appears to be loose due to the thickness of the leaf. Rolling broadleaf in the bunch must take some getting used to, but the torcedors have apparently made the appropriate adjustments.

Both samples drew very well — not too loose, despite initial visual impressions — and they burned almost evenly, much better than I expected. My only complaint is that the cigar burns a little too hot after the mid-point. Draw frequency should be limited to about once per minute in the last part of the smoke. Discipline is required.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The Casita Criolla corona offers initial flavors of leather, minerals, and a whiff of black pepper, though there is far less pepper here than in many other Tatuaje blends. The aroma is what you’d expect from broadleaf — it’s rich and sweet with roasted coffee and chocolate.

The middle section doesn’t stray too far from the palate of flavors it starts with, but I notice that the smoke is surprisingly light in texture. The flavors are balanced, the strength is no greater than medium, but the body of the cigar is much lighter than I expected. An aftertaste of graham crackers is a nice touch.

The aroma in the last section turns from leather to wood, but the sweet chocolate notes remain as long as the draw frequency is kept to a minimum. A bitter taste appears if the cigar gets too hot, which it seems to do quite easily in the final stretch.

Conclusion

Contrary to my expectations, La Casita Criolla is a very well balanced cigar. Despite this, it seems to be lacking something. Maybe a different leaf thrown into the mix might give the smoke a little more weight and add to the overall experience. That said, the overall experience is still pretty good, and broadleaf lovers will get a thrill out of this stick.

The coronas are in the 5 to 6 USD range. For the experience of smoking a pure broadleaf cigar, it’s well worth the scratch. I’m not sure I’m ready to run out and buy a box, but I’m glad I had the chance to try them, and I expect I’ll be picking them up from time to time in the shop.

Final Score: 89

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

Cabaiguan Maduro

CabaiguanMaduro

I have to wonder if a maduro variation is really necessary for every successful cigar blend. Obviously this is the conventional thing to do, and manufacturers feel no need for discipline when it comes to creating new extensions for reputable brand names, but I still wonder if it doesn’t water down the label a little.

On the other hand, when your forte is making powerful, bold tasting cigars, maybe you do what you can to extend the softer side of your range. Which is what Pete Johnson has done with Cabaiguan Maduro. Cabaiguan is Johnson’s milder alternative to his bold and powerful Tatuaje line. The original Cabaiguan was rolled in Miami with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and made its debut in 2005. It was followed a couple years later by the Guapo, a slightly larger vitola with a sun grown Ecuadorian wrapper, which was slated to be a limited edition rolled in what was then Pepin Garcia’s new factory in Nicaragua.  Both are excellent cigars —  the Corona Extra is in my opinion one of the very best Connecticut Shade cigars available anywhere.

And now we have a maduro edition to tantalize our tastebuds as well. It should be noted that this wrapper is maduro in color only — it is in fact a natural sun-grown Connecticut broadleaf.  The rest of the blend is the same as the standard Cabaiguan, which is of course Nicaraguan.

Like the Guapo series, the Maduro Cabaiguan is available in only a few sizes. Two, to be precise:

  • Rx (Robusto Extra) – 5 1/4 x 50
  • 46 (Corona Extra) –  5 5/8 x 46

CabaiguanRXMad

Construction Notes

Both the Rx and the 46 are well made cigars with a dark, toothy wrapper. The wrapper is typical of sun grown leaf — it’s rough and weathered with a few chips here and there. Both varieties are rolled perfectly — these are products of Pepin Garcia’s factory, and perfection (or something close to it) is what we’ve come to expect from “My Father“.

CabaiguanMadAshBoth sizes burn very well, though the robusto was not plumb-line even; it corrected itself over time and needed no assistance from me. The 46 was spot-on all the way. The ash is a solid light gray with a yellowish cast.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

These are both smooth smoking cigars, but the 46 is slightly more assertive. In the first third I found the Rx easy going, with bittersweet chocolate, cedar, and a touch of anise. The 46 featured more tannin and pepper, with cocoa rather than chocolate.

The robusto picks up a little more tannin in the middle section, while the corona’s peppery edge softens. Both sizes seem to level out at this point, and agree on cocoa with an interesting malty note.

The Rx finishes up with a touch of woody bitterness on the palate that balances well with the sweet chocolate on the nose.  The 46 goes in an interesting direction at this point, increasing the spice and throwing some floral notes into the mix, something almost like lilac. I was reminded a little bit of La Riqueza at this point — it’s a little unusual to find this flavor in one of Pepin’s blends, but I think it’s there in La Riqueza as well.

Conclusion

The Cabaiguan Maduro is a worthy addition to the line. The sun grown broadleaf brings a lot of balance and a little more complexity to a medium-bodied blend that is exceptional to begin with. The wrapper adds some sweet notes of chocolate and cocoa that work well with the tannins on the palate. Over time the tannins might weaken a bit, resulting in a slightly sweeter cigar, but the blend is still very good right now, as long as you don’t mind a little of that fresh green woody taste on the tongue.

I thought the 46 was a little more expressive than the Rx, but both are excellent cigars. The MSRP is a bit steep, around 8 or 9 USD per stick, but that’s not too surprising given the overall quality on display here.

CabaiguanMaduro2Final Scores

Rx: 89

46: 90

La Riqueza No. 3

La Riqueza is the latest offering from Pete Johnson, maker of popular Tatuaje and Cabaiguan cigars. Not surprisingly, La Riqueza is also manufactured by Jose “Don Pepín” Garcia, this time around in his Nicaraguan factory.

Five sizes have been released, curiously numbered one through five:

  • No. 1 — 6 1/2 x 42
  • No. 2  — 5 1/2 x 52
  • No. 3  — 5 5/8 x 46
  • No. 4 — 5 x 48
  • No. 5 — 4 3/8 x 42

Even more curious is the wrapper on this cigar — it’s Connecticut broadleaf. We have become so accustomed to to Johnson’s (and Pepín’s) Nicaraguan puros, and his corojo wrappers in particular, that a broadleaf wrapper invites special scrutiny. There’s something inherently less refined about broadleaf, an impression inspired mostly by its rough and dry appearance.

Broadleaf tends to be thick and veiny, and unlike its shade-grown brethren it bears the full brunt of the weather. While Connecticut Shade is beautiful, refined, and mild, broadleaf is much bolder and more flavorful. But this amplified bravado is accompanied by a reduction in finesse. For all these reasons it is most often used as binder — it’s tough and flavorful, but for aesthetic reasons best kept under wraps.

Further piquing my interest is the fact that the Riqueza wrapper is the product of the Oliva Tobacco Company. Oliva grows and processes tobacco for some of the most prestigious labels in the business: Fuente and Newman being at the top of the list. The Angel 100 is the only cigar the Oliva Tobacco Company has actually produced themselves, and to my eye (and nose) there is in fact a similarity between the Angel 100 and La Riqueza.

The Riqueza is box pressed and bears the classic triple cap we expect from Pepin’s Tabacalera Cubana. The dark wrapper looks like a maduro, but it is reportedly a naturally dark broadleaf that hasn’t received maduro fermentation. The wrapper leaf is just barely oily and a close examination reveals a few fine crystals glittering in the tooth.

The draw on this cigar is spot on perfect.  It burns evenly and builds a solid light gray ash. Overall construction values are excellent.

La Riqueza No. 3 lights easily and produces billows of smoke from the start. The smoke texture is smooth and the initial flavor is moderately peppery with a mild bite. Pretty much what you’d expect from Pepin, but within half an inch the cigar opens up and becomes something completely different.

The flavor on the palate is coffee-like, but the aroma is very sweet, floral but also spicy. There is a lingering aftertaste of wood and pepper, and the overall effect is complex.

Into the second third the flavors lose some of their nuance and focus on earth. There is still a smattering of pepper on the palate, and the fragrance remains spicy sweet. The smoke gathers strength at this point as well, becoming slightly harsh on the back of the throat and sinuses.

The last section of the Riqueza No. 3 delivers rich earthy tobacco flavors — exactly what you’d expect from broadleaf — but the concentration of this flavor begins to overpower the subtle aromas in the last third. By an inch from the band the aftertaste surpasses earthiness and borders on dirty, becoming a little bitter, a little dry, and a little too much in my opinion.

What is remarkable about this cigar is the aroma, which is similar in some respects to what I’ve found in the Cuban Romeo y Julieta. But even more than that, it reminds me of the wrapper on the Angel 100 — the overall impression La Riqueza creates in combination with the flavor on the palate is more complex than the Angel, but the floral spiciness is quite similar. I have to wonder if these will age as well as the Angels, and if they will eventually lose some of their sharpness, especially in the back third. My only criticism of this cigar is that it seems to end about an inch and half too soon.

Aside from the unpleasant turn this one took in the last lap I think it’s a fine cigar. With age it should mellow into a great medium bodied Nicaraguan style smoke, one with a fantastic bouquet. If a retail tag of 9 USD isn’t a sticking point for you, I’d recommend picking up a box and letting it simmer for a year or two.

For other opinions of La Riqueza check out the Great Torpedo’s video review of the No. 3 at the Stogie Review, and Lisa’s review of the robusto size at Her Humidor.