A while back I reviewed a cigar that I thought was a real find: the JFR by Tabacalera Tropical. The reputation of this cigar has spread without the benefit of advertising and it has earned a nice following.

The “Just for Retailers” cigar is produced by Tabacalera Tropical for sale by authorized purveyors of fine tobacco products — for retail sales only. Now this makes good sense. Tropical is doing brick and mortar establishments a service by providing a quality product that is available only in stores. You and I have to peel ourselves off the couch and roll our ponderous selves over to the shop to get our JFRs. While we’re there we’ll probably pick up a few other goodies — and this is great for the stores. So far so good.

Now why would the same manufacturer turn around and offer the same great blend to a well-known cigar supergiant for internet sales — doesn’t this defeat the purpose of the retailer-only concept? If I were a retailer I’d be spitting bricks, unless… they were actually different cigars. If the retail version were of considerably better quality, that might make some sense. A little, anyway. Let the B&Ms sell the real deal, pawn the seconds off on the internet. Hmmm…jfr-jfc-caps1

So the question remains: is there any real difference between the “Just For Retailers” cigar and the “Just for Catalogs” version? I picked up a few of each and pitted them against each other on successive nights this week.

They are virtually indistinguishable except by the flagged foot of the JFR. Both score highly in the aesthetic department — rich looking oily wrappers that bear tight triple-wrapped pig tailed caps. In terms of appearance these babies could compete with anything coming out of El Rey de Los Habanos. Very nice.

JFR Super Toro

The pre-light characteristics of both the JFR and  the JFC were similar — horsey with a touch of leather. Nothing to complain about there. Good draw, easy light.

As I’ve mentioned before, the JFR has a sweet nutty flavor that reminds a lot of Illusione cigars. It’s almost like candied hazelnuts. The aroma is leathery — combined with the sweet flavors that later pick up some coffee notes, the overall sensation is quite complex. Add some oak and a touch of vanilla. There’s a lot going on here.

After the mid-point the JFR gets much heavier, earthier, spicier, and aggressive. While the first half of the cigar is relatively smooth, the second is pretty rough. My previous experience with this smoke has been that I can’t smoke it much past the half-way point, but lovers of heavy Nicaraguans will probably feel differently.

Some of the JFRs didn’t burn as well as I’d hoped: a few corrections were necessary to keep the burn even, and the draw felt a little bit loose at times. On the other hand, they all burn with a slow determination. This is at least a 90 minute smoke for me.


JFC Super Toro

The JFC is a much less boisterous cigar. It starts out with a mild woodiness and just a hint of the sweet nutty flavor that the JFR brings to the fore. The JFC is not as sweet and doesn’t have the JFR’s oak-and-vanilla component, but the aroma is somewhat similar — leathery, but at a reduced volume. There simply isn’t as much flavor here.

On the other hand, it’s a much easier cigar to smoke. The first half is smooth going and though it picks up speed in the second half it never gets truly aggressive. The construction is also a little better — it burns evenly without needing touchups and the draw is more consistent.

What the JFC lacks that the JFR has in spades is complexity. Both are fine cigars, but they seems to have different temperaments entirely — the JFC is smooth and simple; the JFR is bruising and complex. Both good cigars, but not the same.


Even the ash looks different: the JFR (left) produces a dark ash akin to some Cuban cigars, while the JFC’s is lighter, like what you’d expect from more completely fermented tobacco.

Bottom Line

The” Just For Retailers” and the “Just for Catalogs” cigars are not the same blend. Both are good cigars, but the JFR is a much fuller bodied, more complex cigar with some minor construction issues. The JFC is a smooth smoking, flavorful but not very complex smoke that exhibits much better construction than its brother. I give them both passing grades, but the JFR gets the nod for its more robust flavor.

Final Scores

JFR: 86

JFC: 84


Postscript: I just went back to the cigar supergiant website to see what the going price is for JFCs, and they appear to be out of production. So much for that…

JFR – “Just For Retailers” Corona Gorda


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.