Cigar reviews, news and ramblings by Kevin

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Habana Leon A

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Having smoked my share of duds lately, it was time to reach for a reliable treat. Old school “Pepin whores” will be familiar with this selection — the Habana Leon A.

Blended and banded to resemble the Cuban Partagas, Habana Leon was one of the private labels (along with Havana Soul, Nacionales W, Sancti Spiritus, Hirsh y Garcia and Cuban Diplomat) produced by Pepin Garcia for Cigar King before Senor Garcia was a household name. For many, including myself, these CK house brands served as the introduction to Pepin’s now-legendary blending style.

Aesthetically, these Miami-made 9.25″ x 48 monsters are stunning. When I acquired my box about two years ago, I was dazzled by their uniformity. Pulling them from their cello sleeves for aging, I found each to be absolutely perfect with silky smooth wrappers (Nicaraguan corojo from the 2000 harvest) and neat triple caps. Not a blemish, lump or soft spot in the box. Clones.

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September 19, 2008   52 Comments

Gran Habano Corojo #5 Rothschild

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I remember this purchase fondly. It was December 2004. I had just finished a grueling election cycle and made my annual trek from CT to FL to recover. I had written something like 300 ads in three months. I was fried. I was also pretty sure I was never going to do that to myself again.

So my second day on the ground in FL was all about driving to Ybor City for an impulse buy. I knew nothing of STC or the Ricos. All I knew of Gran Habano was that I’d had a single Corojo #5 a few weeks prior and was blown away. King Corona had them by the box and I bloody well deserved them.

I have since learned all about these, of course, as STC’s Guillermo and George Rico have practically become folk heroes among BOTLs. Their Gran Habano brand is an excellent series of wallet-friendly blends — the Connecticut #1, Habano #3 and Corojo #5. They still sell for a hair over $3.00 per stick. Even Gran Habano’s glamour line, the 3 Siglos, commands less than $6.00.

The 4.5″ x 50 Rothschild is a decent looking fireplug of a stick. The Nicaraguan wrapper is dark and, even after sitting for nearly four years, quite oily. Not exactly pretty, but the look promises flavor.

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September 13, 2008   61 Comments

La Rosa Especial Piquin

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It’s the end of the road yet again for La Rosa Especial. The first version of this brand was produced for JR Cigars by Nestor Plasencia in the late 90s. It was billed as “the strongest cigar on Earth.” It wasn’t. They were, however, pretty good aside from a spotty build. I was mildly disappointed when the brand was discontinued after couple of years.

In 2006, Lew Rothman and Plasencia brought La Rosa back to life, this time as a more powerful blend. Again, no one was buying. These went on closeout this week. And despite never having tried the new blend, I love a closeout as much as the next guy. I scored my 20-count box of 5″ x 50 Piquins for the low, low price of $33 shipped.

It features a dry looking Honduran wrapper, Costa Rican binder and a four-nation filler blend. At first, I’m struck by the easy draw and clouds of smoke. But shortly thereafter, I realize there’s no flavor to speak of. I smack my lips on the finish, but I’m coming up empty. It is definitely peppery, particularly in the sinuses on retrohaling. There is just a hint of brown sugar and bread on the finish. In this way, it reminds me of the Don Kiki Brown Label, though the Brown Label has far more flavor.

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September 7, 2008   70 Comments

When “Florida Shade” Was The Rage

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With an eye toward fall planting, I started browsing for tobacco seeds. I stumbled across a strain called Florida Sumatra, which is described as a shade wrapper, though it is suitable for binder or filler as well. Wrapper leaf? Grown in Florida? Hmm. Off to “the Google”…

After following a few fascinating links, I had an entirely new picture of the Florida cigar industry.

My understanding of Florida cigar history was limited to the production side in the Tampa area. What I didn’t know was that Gadsden County, Florida was, at the turn of the 20th century, the primary and original producer of shade grown wrapper leaf.

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September 1, 2008   61 Comments

Forum Foil-Hatters Rage Against CA’s Ratings

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Most folks I encounter on cigar forums are pleasant, thoughtful and entertaining. But every community has its share of wankers. Conveniently, they seem to have grouped themselves into easily detected stereotypes. Stop me when one of these characters sounds familiar:

(1) The Cigar Bandologist who rejoices in telling everyone, based on a blurry cell phone photo, that their Cubans are counterfeit. See that little spec on the band below the letter H? (Lens dust.) Aha! Fake! Every time. You see, Dr. Bandology has a simple rule — your Habanos are all fake, and his are all real.

(2) The guy who has never smoked a Cuban cigar, yet insists they’re overrated. Further, anyone who enjoys them is a victim of James Suckling’s Mind Control Machine, which cranks out low frequency radio waves from a wine cellar in the south of France.

(3) Finally, the conspiracy theorist who seizes on the flimsiest excuse to start another “Cigar Aficionado’s Ratings Are Corrupt” thread. This proud LaRouche voter has it “from a big name in the industry” that manufacturers who don’t advertise in the magazine get no rating higher than 78, blah, blah. He never has any evidence, mind you. But anyone who doesn’t buy this foil hat muckraker’s BS is flamed.

It’s this last sort who got my attention this past weekend. I came across a thread entitled “Cigar Aficionado and Tatuaje,” which read as follows:

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August 25, 2008   84 Comments

Maria Mancini Robusto Larga

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The H2000 wrapper was a peculiar chapter in recent cigar history. In a nutshell, it was the New Coke of the tobacco world.

Nestor Plasencia was the first outside of Cuba to experiment with the Cuban seed-Connecticut Shade hybrid. His test crop, planted in Esteli in 1996 and harvested in 1997, looked to many like the leading edge of a wrapper revolution. It was hardy, resistant to disease, produced huge leaves and was easy for rollers to work with. Then there was the flavor — Cubanesque, spicy and earthy, but not so overbearing that it shouted down the fillers. A blender’s dream.

Of his experimental crop, Plasencia said, “It was the perfect leaf.”

Lew Rothmann of JR Cigars declared it “the next great wrapper.”

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August 24, 2008   66 Comments

Mysterioso Maduro Enigma

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Some time ago I reviewed the outstanding Old Powder Keg Maduro Robusto from Connecticut Valley Tobacconist. Today we have another limited release from brand owner and blender Mike Tarnowicz, the Mysterioso Maduro Enigma.

As to be expected, this maduro is cloaked in Broadleaf grown only a few miles from CVT. These wrappers were aged for seven years before production, which makes them nearly 10 years-old today.

But Tarnowicz’s creativity and knowledge as a leaf broker are most evident in his choice of filler — the rare Louisiana perique.

Perique was once a common pipe tobacco, but production has declined in recent decades. St. James Parish, LA was once home to 1,100 acres of perique fields. Today, fewer than 40 acres are under plant, nearly all by a single farmer, 90 year-old Percy Martin.

When cured, perique is moist and nearly black. Too overpowering to be smoked on its own, it has always been used as “seasoning” in pipe and cigarette blends. Pipe connoisseurs speak of Perique’s fruity and pungent quality, noting it lends hints of plum and pepper to a blend.

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August 21, 2008   58 Comments

The Cone of Ownage

Q: What sucks worse than a Victor Sinclair Vintage Select?

A: A forecast track that puts a hurricane in your living room on Tuesday.

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The Cone of Ownage is virtually meaningless more than 24 hours out, of course. But Mike’s Weather Page is going to get plenty of hits from me between now and Tuesday.

UPDATE 8/19: Fay will drift well to my east. We’re expecting intermittently heavy rain, but sustained winds won’t exceed 30mph. Kevin 1, Cone of Ownage 0. But the season is young.

UPDATE 8/22: This storm is a drag. As I’m sure you’ve seen on the news, Fay has doubled back to the Gulf Coast. It’s well north of me, but it has been cloudy, windy and spitting for two days now. It could be much worse, of course. I could be under four feet of water in Melbourne.

August 16, 2008   60 Comments

Seedling Update 2.0: At Least They’re Not ALL Dead

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Here’s a quick snap of a surviving seedling, now flourishing in an Earth Box. About half of the crop succumbed to the Florida summer sun (as did my habaneros and jalapenos). I’m thinking that’s not too bad of an attrition rate, though, given that I shouldn’t have planted any of these until October.

I have three that are robust like this one and another 10-12 that are smaller but seemingly healthy. So far, I’ve noticed no difference between those growing under “shade” (the lanai screen cuts about half the UV) and the box that’s in direct sunlight.

I’ll do some long overdue research and then order seeds for fall. Who knows? I might end up with a little pile of leaf after all.

August 16, 2008   65 Comments

El Original Maduro Robusto

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If you remember when these made a splash, you’re officially old school.

The El Original, made in Miami and Key Largo, FL, was a cult smoke during mid-late 90s. At the time, it was one of few non-Cubans to deserve the label of full-bodied. Most manufacturers were conjuring up medium-bodied blends for intermediate smokers stepping up from Macanudos. Master blender Santiago Cabana, meanwhile, was steps ahead, making them strong five years before anyone else thought to double dip into the ligero pile.

Senor Cabana came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1993. His web bio states that has been in the cigar industry for six decades, and plied his craft at none other than the Partagas Factory in Havana. Shortly after his arrival in Florida, Cabana began producing cigars for Key Largo’s Island Smoke Shop. First was the eponymous Santiago Cabana, which I’ll be reviewing soon. Later came the El Original, which blew the doors off of 56 other maduros to grab top honors in Smoke Mag’s Winter ‘99 taste test.

The 5″x 50 El Original Maduro Robusto uses a dark brown Mexican wrapper to cloak a Nicaraguan binder and a complex blend of Dominican, Peruvian, Honduran, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers. Though the stick isn’t particularly heavy in the hand, a glance at the foot shows it to be jam packed with leaf.

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August 14, 2008   57 Comments