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.

Condega3

Final Score: 89

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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 vs. JFC

jfr-jfc

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

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.

jfash

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

~cigarfan

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…

Famous Nicaraguan Corojo Corona

Well, Don “Pepin” Garcia has finally dropped the bomb. We knew it was coming, like the End of Days, but we didn’t know when. First Pepin announced he would no longer take on new clients. Soon after that, Ernesto Padilla announced that Pepin would no longer manufacture Padilla cigars. Then there was a public airing of grievances at Stogieguys.com regarding Pepin dropping Black Cat as a client. And at some point during all this, the prices on Pepin blends at Cigar King went through the roof. The time is nigh!

For lovers of full bodied Nicaraguan puros this may sound like a death knell, but of course it isn’t. Pepin will still make plenty of cigars (though a rumored 20% across the board price increase is entirely credible) but it’s not like he’s going away. Like he says, “The day I stop making cigars will be the day I die.” Furthermore, there are plenty of other fine Nicaraguan puros out there, many for a much more affordable price. The Famous Nicaraguan Corojo is one of them.

Now these coronas are not Pepin replicas or seconds, or what have you, but there is a connection. They’re made for Famous Smoke Shop by Tabacalera Tropical, where Pepin was once employed as a blender. The principal backer for Pepin’s solo venture was the owner of Tropical, Eduardo Fernandez, and Fernandez reportedly grows many of the tobaccos Pepin uses in his Rey de los Habanos blends.

I like small full-flavored cigars as “fixers.” Sometimes I’ll start a cigar that turns out to be plugged, or won’t burn right, or just rubs me the wrong way for some reason. Instead of struggling though the cigar and having a miserable experience, I’ll toss it and grab a fixer instead. The corona size in this line is a great fixer.

I bought a box of these about a year ago and have observed them mellow from sharp pungent smokes to smooth, but still quite bold cigars. They’re billed as having a 42 ring gauge, but they seem a little narrower to me — closer to a 40 I think. At 5 1/2 inches long they’re still well within the corona range.

The corojo wrapper is an oily colorado maduro and makes an attractive casing for the intensity of the ligero binder and filler within. The roll is firm, and like most corojo blends this one does best at a lower humidity — in the low 60s at most. The draw tends toward the firm side and can be difficult if these are kept at 70%.

The opening is classic Nicaraguan spice — lots of black pepper held in check by a leathery underpinning. After an inch or so the pepper subsides, but it never entirely disappears. The burn is a little erratic and needs an occasional touch up.

At the midway point the corona stretches its legs a little and becomes a smoother, more relaxing smoke. It’s not the most nuanced cigar on the planet, but at this point the spice melds with the leathery aspect and if taken slowly it’s quite enjoyable. It continues in this fashion as it glides in for a landing. My only advice here is to take it slow. Hotbox this one, especially in the last third, and it will get a little mean.

The Famous Nicaraguan Corojo blend is a solid blend of spice and leather that is reminiscent of the recent Nicaraguan corojo blends, but is available at a much more reasonable price. A box of 20 will set you back only 50 clams. It’s not the most subtle or sophisticated cigar on the market, but for the price it’s most definitely worth checking out, either as an everyday smoke for the medium to heavy bodied palate, or in my case, as a “fixer.”