Cigar Review #12 – Cigar King Gold Series II

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review November 7, 2016

Cigar King Gold Series II

Toro (6.5 x 52)
Last week, when I was writing the review for the Cigar King Gold Series (original), I mentioned I was smoking and making notes on the second generation version of the same cigar. The Gold Series II is also a collaboration between Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel. All the same, setting these two cigars side by side is like comparing “apples to oranges.”

These cigars are produced with different tobaccos, a different factory, but the same quality and care in blending a complex and flavorful cigar. The Gold Series II is a wonderful smoke. There are some similarities in profile between the first and second incarnations, but the smoking experience is COMPLETELY different. If you liked the original, I think you’re going to love this one.

Here’s what I found, in “part deux”:

A little history:

This cigar is another creation of Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel. It was made to replace the original Cigar King Gold Series and is as good, or better, than the first. I don’t know much about the story of this cigar, but, when something is this tasty, who cares why, when or where? I just want to smoke and enjoy it!

As in previous reviews, I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

Cigar King Gold Series II – Toro (6.5 x 52)

Who makes it?

It is a collaboration between Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel.

Where’s it from?

It’s made by Nestor Plasencia at his factory in Esteli, Nicaragua.

What other sizes are available?

Like the original, it is only available in a Toro (6.5 x 52).

 

How much does it cost?

 

I believe the individual stick price is around $8.50. It’s available in a five pack for $32.99 or a box of 20 for $129.95. That puts the price at around $6.50 per cigar, based on box pricing discounts.

That, my friends, is the great thing about buying a box of cigars. This particular deal gives you $2.00 off the single stick price! If you really like a cigar and have the space, it’s always better to buy your cigars by the box. Many retailers will also offer special deals with a box purchase, like a free lighter, cutter or extra sticks. Look for these deals and take advantage.

How well is it constructed?

When you put the names Hirsh, Patel and Plasencia together, you know you’re going to get only the finest quality of tobaccos, blend and construction. This stick is no different. It is superbly constructed with a dark-brown oily wrapper and an expertly finished three-line cap.

(By the way, if you need a way of telling the original Cigar King Gold Series from the Series II, the second generation is the one with the beautiful gold foil, double band. That’s not really part of the construction, but the band can tell you a lot about the quality of a cigar)!

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

The Cigar King website states that the factory uses several experimental hybrid ligero leafs as fillers, grown in three different regions of Nicaragua, with a fourth grown in a small tobacco field in Costa Rica. The binder is Honduran Habano and the wrapper is a special Ecuadorian Habano, chosen from Nestor’s own private stock! The combination of the Honduran and Ecuadorian wrappers, plus the four different tobaccos in the filler, give the cigar a complexity and balance of flavor that allows the smoke to flow across the pallet and engages all of the flavor receptors on your tongue, not just the ones in the center (sweet and bitter).

How did it light?

Great!

How’s the draw?

It was even, throughout.

How does it burn?

Both of my examples had a perfect burn, down to the last tasty draw.

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

 

My first smell of the cigar was light and slightly sweet, with hints of hay and honey. The foot had a dried fruit smell (like plum). My dry draw carried the flavor of some honey, again, and the dried fruit was still there. However, it didn’t taste sweet. It was rich and flavorful.

The first draw was a lovely mix of flavors and sensations. It was a little sweet, but smooth and complex. From here on it settled into a well-balanced blend with coffee notes and mild pepper/spice. The sweetness was still there, but it wasn’t overpowering.

Did it change as you smoked it?

Oh, yes! The second third opened up to a more bold flavor with less sweetness. The rich smoothness of the smoke coated my tongue and danced across my palate. There was a hint of saltiness that I noted, as well. (It made my mouth water).

The final third up through the finish was bolder, still. The sweetness was even less (almost hard to discern) as notes of cedar came into play. It stayed complex, smooth and creamy to the end. It may sound a bit strange, but in my notes I used the word sensual to describe the taste. And, I don’t use that word often (at least when describing a cigar)!

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

I would call it a medium plus. It does grow in strength as you smoke through it, but I don’t think I’d call it strong.

Would you smoke it again?

Yes (again and again)! It’s so well-balanced and complex. (I may have used those terms a few too many times in this review. But, I call ’em as I see ’em).

Should I try it?

You should! I really liked this cigar. It’s so… you know what I’m going to say. If you like a Nicaraguan flavor profile (that’s not too overbearingly strong) with a hint of sweetness, you’re sure to love this one.

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

I could if I would, but I can’t, so I won’t.

Conclusion:

The Cigar King Gold Series II, is a fantastically constructed, well-blended and well-priced example of what three masters of the craft of cigar making can do. It delivers balance and complexity of flavor that is sure to please. Even if you’re new to cigars or think Nicaraguan blends are too full-flavored for your tastes, you should give this one a try. With its mix of

sweetness and spiciness, it is sure to delight the pallets of the most discerning smokers.

This exclusive blend is only available at Cigar King. If you’d like to give it a try, you can stop by the store, located at 7830 E Gelding Dr #100, in Scottsdale, Arizona, or you can buy them through their website (www.cigarking.com).

Either way, tell them you read one of my reviews! I don’t think it will get you any special deals (I’d need to teach you the secret handshake and password for that). But, it would be great to hear that you liked what you read and wanted to try one of the cigars I’ve reviewed.

Well, that’s the end of this edition of The Smoking Gun Cigar Review. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

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Cigar Review #11 – Cigar King Gold Series (original)

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review November 2, 2016

Cigar King Gold Series (Original)

Toro (6.5 x 52)

I’m closing in on smoking and reviewing all of the Cigar King exclusive blends. Today’s selection is the original Cigar King Gold Series. I’m finding it very interesting to smoke all of the cigars make by Mitchel Hirsh, owner of Cigar King. Even though all of these brands are cigars made by different factories and are collaborations between Mitchel and other blenders, there is a familiarity across the lines.

It’s hard to explain, but the complexity and balance of all of these cigars are much the same, but very different. If I were going to relate it to food (of which I am a big fan), I would say: I really like Indian food. I love the spices/curries that give them that “Indian” quality. Although the dishes have different ingredients and flavor combinations, they are all easily identified as being Indian; it’s the flavor profile.

The Cigar King exclusive blends are much like that. They’re made in different factories, using different tobaccos, but they all have an underlying consistency. While the obvious identifier is quality, I seem to get the same sort of tasting notes from each cigar. Now, that’s not to say they taste the same. They don’t. But, there are hints of certain things that make me want to try them all and come back to them again and again.

This Gold Series is no different. (As I am writing this, I am smoking and starting my notes on the Gold Series II. Same name; different tobaccos; different taste). I’m finding it to be familiar and tasty- just as the original. Here’s what I found in the first opus:

A little history:

The cigar is the creation of Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel and is a limited production release. It is a small-batch production cigar that only yielded 250 boxes of a Toro (6.5 x 52) size cigar. (I don’t know how many are left of the original, but you might not want to wait on this one!) The Gold Series II is available, as well. I’ll be reviewing it next.

OK. I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

Cigar King Gold Series – Toro (6.5 x 52)

Who makes it?

It is a collaboration between Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel.

Where’s it from?

It is made at Rocky Patel’s El Paraiso Factory in Honduras.

What other sizes are available?

The cigar is only available in a Toro (6.5 x 52).

How much does it cost?

I believe the individual stick price is around $7.00. It is available in a five pack for $34.00 or a box of 20 for $119.95. That puts the price at around $6.00 per cigar, based on box pricing discounts.

How well is it constructed?

It’s a well-constructed cigar. The wrapper and cap are of the same quality you would expect in a premium cigar made in a top-notch factory. It has a lovely dark-brown wrapper with considerable veins, throughout.

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

The wrapper is Connecticut Broadleaf over a San Andreas Maduro binder. The The filler is a mixture of different tobaccos from several regions in Nicaragua.

How did it light?

It was a great light.

How’s the draw?

The draw was good and even.

How does it burn?

The burn was mostly good. I did have some small issues in the final third (but, in all honesty, I was distracted and not paying attention to my cigar.) Operator error!

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

The smell of the wrapper was that of leather and barn. It did have an underlying sweetness. That combination says, to me, “This is going to be good!” I did catch some difference on the foot. I smelled more sweetness and a hint of cocoa and caramel/burnt sugar. The dry draw was much of the same.

On the first draw, I tasted a richness and fuller body than I had expected from the dry draw. There was a light floral quality with hints of hay/alfalfa and grass. The sweetness was still there, but only on the back end of the flavor combination.

Did it change as you smoked it?

Yes. The second third opened up to a much bolder flavor profile, with the hint of leather returning and a touch of dried fruit sweetness. (It may have been raisin. I was drinking something that may have masked the true flavor). There wasn’t as much pepper/spice as I would have expected with the filler that was used, but it was there, just not as strong.

The final third was stronger, still. The sweetness lessened and the full, rich flavor of the Nicaraguan fillers took center stage. The cigar continued toward a bold and potent finish.

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

I would call it a medium plus with a strong finish.

Would you smoke it again?

Yes, if I can get my hands on more of them. As I said earlier, I don’t know how many they have left. This was a limited run.

Should I try it?

Yes! If you like Nicaraguan tobacco flavors but don’t like the peppery tongue lashing you get with other blends, this is the cigar for you. Trust me. The fullness is there, but it isn’t overpowering.

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

No. I think I’m going to have to take this question out of my reviews. I’m tired of people asking me for free cigars!

Conclusion:

The Cigar King Gold Series (original) is a great quality, reasonably-priced cigar. It has tremendous flavor and evolves through some wonderful taste changes. It is closer to bold, especially in the final third, than some of the other Cigar King exclusives, and well worth a try. If you like strength but don’t like peppery spice, it’s a wonderful choice.

Flavor, quality and reasonable price are a rare combination in the cigar world. But, in my humble opinion, Mitchel Hirsh and Rocky Patel have produced a combination of those elements that will make you want to go back to this cigar again and again. I just hope there are some available that will allow us all to give it a try.

As mentioned earlier, this cigar is only available at Cigar King. They can be reached through their website (www.cigarking.com) or you can stop by the store, located at 7830 E Gelding Dr #100, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Either way, tell them you read one of my reviews!

Well, that’s the end of another Smoking Gun review. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

Cigar Review #10 – San Cristobal Quintessence

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review October 28, 2016

San Cristobal Quintessence

Epicure (5 x 52)

I was recently invited to attend a launch event for the new San Cristobal Quintessence. This new cigar was making its first appearance in Arizona at Cigar King, in Scottsdale. Being a big fan of the San Cristobal Revelation, I was very excited to try this cigar. I was given the chance to smoke one at the shop. I took notes on this one and took a second one home for a later smoke. Here’s what I found:

A little history:

The San Cristobal brand is part of the Ashton line-up. It was blended by one of the most celebrated cigar-manufacturers of our time, Jose “Pepin” Garcia. As I mentioned earlier, this is a new blend within the line, called Quintessence. It seems to be a fitting name. The word quintessence means the most perfect example of something or a prime example of quality and class. (Very much like me!) (That was a joke!)

The San Cristobal brand was introduced in 2007 and the Revelation was launched in 2013. So, this is the first new blend they have introduced in several years.

OK. I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

San Cristobal Quintessence – Epicure (5 x 52)

Who makes it?

It is a Don Pepin blend, made by Ashton Cigars.

Where’s it from?

It is produced at My Father Cigars S.A. in Estelí, Nicaragua.

What other sizes are available?

The cigar is available in Robusto (5 x 50), Epicure (6 x 52), Majestic (6 x 60) and Belicoso (6.5 x 54).

How much does it cost?

The retail price of this cigar is around $8.75. The other sizes range in price from $8.50 to $9.50, according to the size.

How well is it constructed?

It is a beautifully constructed and wrapped cigar. (But, what else would you expect from Ashton and Pepin)? The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper is a nice medium-brown colored wrapper with small veins throughout. The cap is finished well. And, (although it isn’t really part of construction), I would like to mention this cigar’s band. With its colorful bird and flowers, it is a beautiful and nostalgic example of a premium cigar band. Even if I didn’t know anything about the blend or production, the band, alone, would make me want to try it! Well done, San Cristobal.

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

The cigar is a Nicaraguan tour-de-force, with an Ecuadorian habano wrapper, over binder and filler tobaccos grown by the García family at their Nicaraguan farms.

How did it light?

Perfectly.

How’s the draw?

The draw was just right—even, but a little tighter than some. (That’s what I like!)

How does it burn?

The burn was consistent and even throughout.

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

When I first sniffed the wrapper, I noticed hints of leather, mild barn smells, some sweetness (which I think was vanilla). The foot, however, was much sweeter and had a caramel latte note. The dry draw was mild and sweet(ish). On the first draw, there was a definite sweetness with a bitter note (I mean that in a good way), and mild pepper.

The flavor very quickly settled in to grassy with hints of green pepper (like a good merlot). The vanilla was also present, but it was more like vanilla extract (not sweet, just vanilla).

Let’s talk about flavor profiles for a minute. There are four recognized flavor preceptors on our tongues: sweet (which we sense on the front of the tongue), bitter (which we experience on the back of the tongue), salty (which is at the sides in front) and acidic (which is at the sides in back). Additionally, in a more Eastern philosophy, you can add a fifth, Umami.

A common cigar blending technique will combine tobaccos that have very different characteristics that will each “light up” different flavor preceptors on the tongue. This way, you get a balanced and multi-leveled smoking experience. It’s like fireworks of flavor going off all over your mouth. The next time you smoke a cigar, stop and think about what part of your tongue is being stimulated. Is it the front (sweet), sides (salty), back (bitter) or back sides (acidic). You’ll start to know your pallet better and will start tasting cigars differently.

Did it change as you smoked it?

There were some definite changes in flavor as I smoked. In the second third I experienced more grassy notes and pepper, but the sweetness was still there. (It was like putting dried fruit in a savory dish – there, but not prominent).

The final third was much spicier with more pepper and a little more robust. Although, it was still well-balanced and rich. It stayed that way to the finish. It was an all-around tasty, Nicaraguan profile cigar.

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

I think it’s more than a medium, and starts heading toward full-bodied at the end. It was never overly strong, but was pleasantly potent.

Would you smoke it again?

Yes. Now that they are becoming available nationally, I will!

Should I try it?

Most definitely, yes! If you already like the San Cristobal Revelation, or you like a fuller-bodied Nicaraguan, this one might be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t be put off by it being stronger, you’ll still enjoy it. In a conversation with an Ashton sales rep., we decided it was like “a Revelation on steroids!”

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

Do you have one to give me? Look at your local brick and moral retailers. Ask your local tobacconist. Order on-line. If you find them, give them a try. If you find very many of them, send some to me!

Conclusion:

I don’t want to plagiarize, so I’m going to give the credit to Ashton Cigars for this quote from their website: “Drawn from a luscious Ecuador Habano wrapper and the finest, premium aged binder and filler tobaccos grown on the Garcia family estates, Quintessence is patiently rolled in Pepin’s immaculate factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, in four classic formats. Captivating notes of molasses, coffee and black pepper intrigue the palate with a placid sweetness. Hints of dried fruit, figs and sugarcane gather in wonderful proportion to culminating spices. Cool, civil aromas emanate throughout a medium to full-bodied finish. San Cristobal Quintessence exemplifies Pepin’s rise to prominence with tasteful indulgence.” (http://ashtoncigar.com/cigars/san-cristobal-cigars/san-cristobal-quintessence).

I don’t think I could come close to saying that in such a poetic way! It’s a great cigar. You should try it. And, you should thank local cigar store owners, like Mitchel Hirsh of Cigar King in Scottsdale, AZ, for supporting new cigars and blends. If the FDA has its way, we may not see anything new for a long, long time—if at all.

Well, that’s the end of another Smoking Gun review. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

 

The product photo was taken from the Ashton Cigars web-site. (http://ashtoncigar.com/cigars/san-cristobal-cigars)

The New Renaissance of Cigar Smoking…Or Is It?

I thought some of you might be interested in reading this article I wrote for Scottsdale.com. It should shed some light on the new Cuban Cigar changes and FDA regulations. Let me know what you think. And, don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights to smoke a good cigar at a reasonable price!

October 19, 2016

By Daz Herring

As a cigar smoker, you may have been hearing news, both bad and good, about what is happening in the industry with regard to FDA regulation, and to the warming relations with Cuba and the world-famous Cuban cigar market. This mix of news is both exciting and concerning to the American cigar consumer.

On the one hand we can now bring Cuban cigars back into the United States, and do so legally. On the other hand, the FDA is tightening it’s control over the industry and, in essence, choking the it with new regulations and fees that seem designed to cripple both cigar manufacturers and retailers. So, how do we rejoice and mourn at the same time?

Let’s start with the exciting news, about Cuban cigars (and rum), that came out late last week. On Friday, October 14, the Obama administration announced a directive that would allow Americans to engage in more trade with the still-communist island. This included the news that American travelers can now bring back the same amount of Cuban tobacco and alcohol as they can from other countries. Additionally, the directive includes bringing back Cuban products from any other country where those products are legally sold.

So, Cuban cigars and rum are, in essence, back on the American menu. However, this doesn’t mean you can bring back as much as you want, as some articles on the subject would suggest. According to the United States Customs and Border Protection web-site, one can declare up to 100 cigars, before having to pay “duty.” So, if you’re in the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, Europe or anywhere else in the world that has access, you can now purchase Cuban cigars and bring them back with you.

Unbeknownst to most American citizens traveling abroad, it had been a violation of the law to purchase Cuban cigars ANYWHERE. Even as others around the world can/could purchase- technically, as an American, you were ‘breakin’ the law!’ On March 16. 2016, the United States issued a directive that US citizens could purchase Cuban cigars while traveling abroad. And… the long-barred door was kicked open.

Since the warming of relations and change in regulations, you could bring in $100 of cigars, if you had traveled to Cuba on one of the very specific visas offered during that time. However, the cigars could not be sold then and cannot now. These new rulings impact cigars meant for personal use only. It is still illegal to sell Cuban cigars in the United States.

This would all seem like great news to the cigar industry, but here’s where we run into some problems. The cigar industry in Cuba may be world-renowned, but not for some of the reasons you might think. Sure, there are great factories and farms in Cuba that produce quality, premium cigars. Yet, since the US embargo in the early 1960s, the primary market of Cuban manufacturers has been Europe.

This leads us to the first problem: If the ban is completely lifted, who will supply all of these products to the United States? Cuba is a small island. There is no additional land available for tobacco production. They also are in the direct path of many Atlantic hurricanes. One strong storm could easily wipe out an entire year’s crop. Where would the enormous amount of cigars come from that the United States consumers would demand?

Another problem that arises is the quality of the current agronomy in Cuba. Let’s face it, Cuba is not a wealthy country and modern scientific advances in agriculture and cigar manufacturing have left the island behind. There are so many great products coming out of Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras that are currently available in today’s industry. Can Cuban cigars prevail in this kind of open marketplace? Readers of international cigar review magazines have seen Cubans being listed less and less frequently. One good example is a well-known magazine that has a top 25 list in which only two Cuban cigars have been listed in the top five in the past three years. (That’s not two each year. That’s two in three years!)

Anyone that knows cigars knows that cigars produced in different countries will have different, inherent flavor profiles. Cubans are no different. They aren’t any better than cigars made in other countries. They just have a different taste.

In my opinion, the allure of smoking a Cuban is one of “the forbidden fruit.” As Americans, we can’t have them and that makes us want them even more. It’s much like what makes us crave all those delicious fatty foods, like double-bacon cheeseburgers and pizza when we’re on a diet. We know we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) have them, so we want them even more.

Many non-Cuban companies utilize the old-world Cuban traditional rolling techniques. If you were to lay a Dominican, Nicaraguan and Cuban cigar, of similar size and shape, next to each other, even a cigar expert would have a difficult time telling you which sample came from where. However, the tasting will tell the story and the American pallet has shifted to a more full-bodied profile. So, would Cuban Cigars really set American cigar store shelves on fire?

So, now that there is a way to purchase and enjoy Cuban cigars legally, when will we be able to buy them in our local brick and mortal cigar stores? The short answer is: no time soon! Aside from what I mentioned earlier, there are many other issues with bringing Cuban-produced cigars into the US marketplace.

First, there is the obvious issue of trade-mark. Following the embargo, many tobacco families left Cuba and established companies in other island nations (predominately the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua). They kept their family names, to identify themselves as being from the Cuban tradition of the finest cigar producers. How can we have boxes of cigars on the shelves of a cigar store with the same name, in some cases, the same logo, though they are being produced by different factories in different countries? If the ban is ever lifted there will be legal challenges and trade-mark infringement actions.

More importantly, how will Cuban manufacturers deal with the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations governing the cigar industry? Earlier this year the FDA published new regulations pertaining to the cigar industry. In the words of the FDA: “Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and death in the United States. Since 2009, FDA has regulated cigarettes, smokeless, and roll-your-own tobacco. FDA finalized a rule, effective August 8, 2016, to regulate all tobacco products.” (http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/RulesRegulationsGuidance/ucm394909.htm)

Strangely enough, in August of this year, the FDA published a study that indicates: “That consumption of up to two cigars per day, while not completely safe, is neither associated with significantly increased risks for death from all causes, nor smoking-related cancers.” (http://www.rstreet.org/op-ed/fda-study-cancer-risks-nearly-nil-for-1-2-cigars-per-day/)

Additionally, I have personally been involved with FDA-sponsored webinars that stated that these new regulations are aimed at stopping the marketing to and use of tobacco products by young people. How many times have you seen a 15 year old walk into your local cigar store and ask to buy a cigar? These new regulations are overreaching and stifling the cigar industry when the focus should be on highly-flavored tobacco products and the vaping industry.

Among the new regulations is what is being termed “the deeming rule.” There are too many aspects of this regulation to discuss in this article, so I’ll just touch on a few. One of the facets that many cigar smokers have already experienced is the death of the free sample. Cigar manufacturers and retailers can no longer give away tobacco products to their customers. From the outside this may sound like “no big deal.” From the inside- problematic. When a new cigar is being introduced, many consumers attend events where they get to know more about the product and are offered the opportunity to give it a try. How do you know if you like a new product unless you get to smoke it first?

This practice is a regular and prevalent mainstay in the food services industry. Think about it: when you walk through the aisles of your local grocery store, how often do you see someone handing out samples in order to promote sales of a new product? This can no longer be done in the cigar industry. So, gone are the days of the free sample. Retailers can’t even give you a free cigar on your birthday! In case you’re wondering, bundled deals (buy five, get one free) are still allowed, because the retailer is making a sale, not giving anything away for free.

Even more disturbing than losing our ability to hand out free samples is the FDA’s adoption of the “predicate date” for cigars. This date is set up to force cigar manufactures to scientifically test and analyze and submit the findings for all new products prior to them being placed for sale in the marketplace. According to the FDA, if a cigar was in regular production and has remained on retail shelves since February 15, 2007, it is “grandfathered” under this rule. (They will, however, have to change their packaging to reflect the new warning labels being inforced by the FDA.) If a cigar was manufactured and available to retailers from the February date through August 8, 2016, the company has a three-year window to have the cigar tested and to submit the regulated paperwork. If a manufacturer wanted to offer a new product after August 8, they may not sell the product until it has completed the FDA approval process.

You may think this doesn’t create a huge problem that will impact the average cigar smoker. If so, please continue reading. This is a very complicated regulation, so I am going to pair it down to the bare minimum of facts. According to the FDA website, the least expensive approval process would cost the manufacturer between $3,500 and $22,700. That cost is not, however, per brand. It is per cigar in the line. (If a company had a line that came in a Robusto, Toro, Churchill and Gordo, and each cigar was available in both a Habano and Maduro wrapper, the cost to keep that cigar in the market would be as high as $181,600, for one label!) If a company wants to bring a new product to market, they will have to spend between $117,000 and $466,000, per cigar. And, assuming the companies want to keep the product on the shelves, who will pay for this increase in production cost? We, the consumer, will!

If Cuban cigars are to enter the US marketplace, they will be required to go through the same approval process as all other newly available tobacco products. These costs will be crippling to some companies. As I mentioned before, Cuban cigars are in high demand around the world, where the FDA has no authority. Why would manufacturers want to pay so much to bring their products to the United States, when they are already able to sell them around the world without any government interference? Even if they do decide to market to the US, these already pricey cigars will cost even more, making them out of the reach of the majority of American cigar enthusiasts.

Many Dominican and Nicaraguan manufacturers have raised their prices over the past few months, citing the new FDA rules as the cause. This trend will continue for some time, as the reality of the “deeming rule” settles in on the industry. However, It isn’t too late to change these regulations. There are currently law suits, in at least two courts, dealing with this infringement of free commerce and there is a possibility that the FDA could lose part of it’s budget, if they persist in this type of regulation overreach.

There are organizations actively spreading the word and encouraging people to contact their legislators. Some notable examples are: www.savetheleaf.org, Cigar Rights of America: www.cigarrights.org, and IPCPR (International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers). IPCPR maintains a legislative issues website, which can be found at www.ipcprlegislative.org. These are only three of the many organizations fighting for the rights of cigar smokers. They are all quality organization that are looking out for our rights. I encourage you to visit their websites and join the fight. You need to exercise your right to be heard, as you may already be finding it more and more difficult to not only sit back and enjoy a good cigar, but to purchase quality cigars at reasonable prices.

From the cigar boom of the mid 1990’s, to the birth of the boutique cigar movement in the 2000’s, the cigar industry has always looked forward, while still holding onto the traditions of the past. Now, we have an outlet for purchasing Cuban cigars coupled with a clamp-down on governmental regulations.

Where is the industry heading? Hopefully it will continue to grow and thrive and the proud traditions of cigar production and smoking will be safe for generations to come. So, pull that cigar out of your humidor, stop by that brick and mortar tobacconist, even order on-line. Light it up and don’t give up your right to enjoy a good cigar with good friends!

Daz Herring is a cigar reviewer and has been involved in the premium cigar industry for several years. His blog, “The Smoking Gun Cigar Review,” can be found at https://thesmokinggunsite.wordpress.com/, Facebook and Twitter. In addition to his cigar interests, he is a professional musician, composer and director, having lived, traveled and performed around the world.

Cigar Review #9 – Cuban Heirloom Connecticut

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review October 13, 2016

Cigar King – Cuban Heirloom Connecticut

Churchill – (7 x 50)

I’m almost through all of the Cigar King exclusive cigars. I hope you’re enjoying reading about them and are enjoying smoking them as well. Here’s one more to add to the list: the Cuban Heirloom Connecticut, made by Perdomo. I think this is the first Connecticut I’ve reviewed. It is a mild, yet tasty wrapper. If you’re looking for a great “early morning, on the patio, with a good newspaper and a cup of coffee” kind of smoke, this Cigar King example fits the bill!

Here’s what I found:

A little history:

The Cuban Heirloom Connecticut Cigars were created exclusively for Cigar King by Nick Perdomo, of Perdomo Cigars. These cigars are crafted by Cuban artisan blenders and rollers to deliver great quality, flavor and (one thing that’s important to many cigar smokers) LOW COST! They are made at the Perdomo Factory using three-year-aged tobacco and finished with a beautiful, honey gold-colored Connecticut wrapper. I believe the line’s been around since 2003, but I will have to check some sources to make sure. I do know it’s been a mainstay of Cigar King for many years and is a favorite of many of their customers.

As always, I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

Cigar King Cuban Heirloom – Connecticut – Churchill (7 X 50)

Who makes it?

They are made exclusively for Cigar King by Perdomo Cigars.

Where’s it from?

They are produced at Tabacalera Perdomo’s manufacturing operation based in Estelí, Nicaragua. The facility is so big that it’s referred to as “El Monstro” (The Monster). The main building is 88,000 square feet, and is the second-largest cigar production facility in Nicaragua).

What other sizes are available?

Along with the Churchill (7 x 50), there is a 556 (5.25 x 56), Robusto (4.88 x 50), Toro (5.55 x 54) and Torpedo (6 x 54). These cigars are also available in four different wrappers (Connecticut, Cameroon, Sun Grown and Maduro). Not all sizes are available in all wrappers. The listing above is just for the Connecticut wrapper.

How much does it cost?

Now, this is where it gets interesting. These cigars come in Mazo (a Spanish word meaning “a group of,” or in this case a bundle of) 20 and range in price from $71.95 to $74.95 (with on-line discounts). That equals less than $4.00 per stick! The individual price of my sample was $6.95. This brings me to a good point. Don’t be afraid of buying bundled cigars. Some of them are extremely high quality smokes. Cigar manufactures often will put premium cigars in bundles (instead of boxes) to keep the cost lower for the consumer. Ask your local cigar dealers if they have any good bundled cigars, and they will lead you to some often overlooked, but great, cigars.

How well is it constructed?

This is a very well constructed cigar. But, would you expect anything less coming out of the Perdomo factory? The wrapper has that lovely honey brown color you would expect in a Connecticut, with small veins and a traditional cap. In addition, it has a nostalgic gold band, that harkens back to the classic pre-embargo Cuban cigars.

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

As I said earlier, this cigar is made from vintage tobaccos (aged three years), with a Connecticut wrapper and a Nicaraguan-grown Criollo binder and filler.

How did it light?

The light was very good. I always like the first draw of a Connecticut wrapper cigar. They are so light and clean tasting.

How’s the draw?

Perfect and even, throughout.

How does it burn?

It was incredibly even, like a row of soldiers marching in formation. Consistency and perfection!

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

On my first nosing of the cigar, I got hints of light leather and spice, but there was an underlying sweetness. It smelled a little like plum brandy. (I think it’s called Slivovitz. It’s rich and sweet and will definitely keep you warm on a cold night).

The dry draw was exactly the same flavors as I had smelled. But, as I said before, the first draw was clean and light. I did notice some citrus notes (like a good IPA), but they weren’t strong, just present. However, there was no noticeable sweetness. There were light hay and grassy notes.

Did it change as you smoked it?

Oh, yes! That’s one of the great things about a Nicaraguan filler and a Connecticut wrapper. You really get to experience many changes as you smoke. The second third was very “Cubanesk” in flavor, with hints of milder spice and pepper (not black pepper, but more like white pepper). It was mild, but rich. The finish was much bolder, with hints of sweet coffee and cedar.

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

This is a Connecticut wrapper (but Nicaraguan on the inside), so it’s, certainly, not mild, but not strong either. I would put it on the lighter side of medium.

Would you smoke it again?

Oh, yes! Even for someone with a preference for stronger cigars, it was a great smoke. I like lighter cigars in the morning and this one is going on my breakfast menu.

Should I try it?

Yes! If you’re looking for a quality (but less expensive) cigar to fit into that Connecticut niche, I think you should give it a try. There are some trendy brands trying out Connecticut wrappers on their already well-known blends, so we know Connecticuts are becoming more and more popular. Why spend $10+ when you can smoke a tasty example for under $4? Now you can- with confidence!

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

Sadly, no. But, you can find them at Cigar King, in Scottsdale, or order them online at http://www.cigarking.com whenever you want. Anyway, why are you always asking me for cigars?

Conclusion:

If you’re looking to try a Connecticut wrapped, Nicaraguan made cigar that is a home-run in quality, taste and cost, look no further. I think you might have found one of your new favorites. Mitchel Hirsh and Nick Perdomo have crafted a beautifully balanced and flavorful cigar that will excite your palate and not empty your cigar buying fund. Although these are bundled cigars, they are of the “Calidad” (look it up – I can’t keep telling you what everything means), that you would expect of Cuban craftsmanship and cigar blending.

The Cuban Heirloom Connecticut Churchill can be found at Cigar King is located at 7830 E. Gelding Dr #100, in Scottsdale and can be found on-line at http://www.cigarking.com. I’m not sure if the name “Heirloom” refers to the crop or to something being handed down, but I’ll hand down this information; “You should try this cigar. You won’t be sorry.”

Well, that’s the end of another Smoking Gun review. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. Maybe you’re just catching up here and asking, “Why all the Cigar King exclusive reviews?” Because, 1) I love trying new cigars; 2) I think Cigar King is the best cigar store in Phoenix, and; 3) lt’s interesting to taste so many different sticks (that are made by many different and well-known manufacturers) that have been produced by the same person.

You know how most cigars within the same line have similarities in flavor profile? Well, these Mitchel Hirsh collaborations are all different. The only similarities are quality, construction and cost. They’re all worth a try!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

Cigar Review # 8 – Cigar King Aged Reserve Maduro

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review October 7, 2016 Cigar King – Aged Reserve Maduro
Pyramide – (6 x 52)

As I continue my quest to try all of the Cigar King exclusive brands, I decided on the Aged Reserve Maduro for this edition. This inexpensive cigar is definitely a mover. Don’t be fooled by the price. It’s made from the same premium tobaccos as the other Cigar King brands, but has a price that might make you think twice about how many boxes (yes, I said boxes and not bundles) you might want to buy.

So, let’s dive right in. Here’s what I found:

A little history:

Introduced in 2005, the Cigar King Aged Reserve has been flying off the shelves for over 15 years. It’s combination of value, quality, and flavor are the keys to its success. The cigar is a collaboration between Mitchel Hirsh and General Cigar Company that took five years to craft. One unique feature of the cigar is that each cigar is wrapped in tissue, leaving only the band and the top inch of the cigar exposed. According to the Cigar King website (www.cigarking.com) and common logic, this method protects the foot of the cigar while still allowing you to view this gorgeous cigar’s wrapper.

Just like before, I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

Cigar King Aged Reserve – Pyramide Maduro (6 X 52)

Who makes it?

They are made exclusively for Cigar King by General Cigar Company.

Where’s it from?

They are hand made at the HATSA cigar factory in Honduras.

What other sizes are available?

Along with the Pyramide (6 x 52), there is a Churchill (7 x 50), Corona (5.5 x 46), Robusto (5 x 50), Toro (6 x 52) and Gigante (6 x 60). All sizes are available in both Natural and Maduro.

How much does it cost?

All sizes come in boxes of 25 and range in price from $72 to $79 dollars (with on-line discounts). You can buy any any size, with the exception of the Gigante (which sells for $6.95), for $5.95, in-store.

How well is it constructed?

Both of my examples were meticulously constructed, with a strong pointed cap. (This is something I like on a pyramid or torpedo [shaped] cigar. If there’s not a good sharp point, the cigar probably wasn’t rolled well). The wrapper was a rich dark color with a light oily sheen. I do want to mention my cut on these cigars. On one, I used a straight cut, which works very well with a pyramid, though the cut was farther down than you might think is appropriate.

If you think about the fact that the end of this style cigar is tapered, you will get a much better draw if you cut farther down (this keeps the smoke from funneling through a small opening and having a hard draw). On the second cigar, I angled my blade to about 45 degrees. This opens up a larger amount of filler and seems to make the cigar smoke and taste better. As much as you think it will, it doesn’t effect the burn. Try it sometime and see what you think.

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

The blend is slow-aged Dominican and Honduran filler tobaccos along with an Ecuadorian binder leaf. The wrapper is Broadleaf Maduro (or Connecticut Shade, if you choose the natural wrapper, which are both grown in the USA and are from a 1997 crop of tobacco that is a Cigar King exclusive).

How did it light?

It lit well.

How’s the draw?

It was good and even throughout the cigar.

How does it burn?

It was consistent and even. I did have one little spot near the final third that I needed to tidy up, but it only happened on one of the two sticks (most likely operator error)!

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

On my first sniff, I caught some leather and light spice. There was also a slight floral quality, but that might have been caused by the insect repellant I had just put on. (The mosquitos were viscous that night!). On the foot, I got a hint of honey.

The dry draw gave me another taste of that honey sweetness. However, there was also a rich dark quality, as well (like a good dark chocolate truffle, with a sweet caramel filling). As I lit the cigar I was very surprised by the character of the smoke. It was much bolder than I would have expected after the dry draw.

Did it change as you smoked it?

There were some definite changes as I smoke through it. As I settled in to the cigar, I tasted the leather notes again and got a hint of walnut, but there was no noticeable sweetness. The second third was a little bolder with more of the spiciness showing through and some black pepper. In the final third there was even more spice and the nutty quality returned. (I swear it tasted like good English black walnuts, to me).

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

Both of my examples were the maduro wrapped version, and I would put them in the medium- bodied category, despite the milder start.

Would you smoke it again?

I would. It’s rare to find a quality smoke for under $4 per stick (based on the box pricing). Just like many of you, I’m always on the look out for good, inexpensive smokes!

Should I try it?

You should! I don’t think you’ll find too many cigars of this quality at this price. I know I always say yes, but this one is a “no-brainer.” Also, you can take a handful of them with you to the golf course and give them to your buddies without breaking the bank. They’ll get a great smoke and you’ll be the hero of the group (even if you shoot 20 over par)!

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

At the price of these cigars, I’ll see what I can do. But, probably not. I think you should be buying some for me to thank me for telling you about them.

Conclusion:

The Cigar King Aged Reserve is a good quality, medium-bodied, premium cigar that is available exclusively at Cigar King. No matter if you’re looking for an everyday smoke or something for a special occasion, this is the stick for you. Most of the time a cigar of this price comes in a cellophane bundle. Now, I’m not saying that all bundled cigars are of lesser quality, but many are. These cigars are beautifully boxed and carefully crafted to give you a rich, flavorful and well-balanced smoking experience.

If you live in Central Arizona, stop by Cigar King, at 7830 E. Gelding Dr #100, in Scottsdale

and try one today. If you aren’t fortunate to live in the “Valley of the Sun,” you can always order on-line at http://www.cigarking.com. Either way, you should try the Cigar King Aged Reserve. I think you’ll find yourself coming back to this stick again and again.

Thanks for joining me for another review. I do hope you’ve enjoyed the read and, have perhaps, learned a thing or two. Just for the record, I don’t always like everything I smoke, but I don’t want to be too critical of a cigar others might love. We all have different tastes! So, if there’s a cigar you would like to know about, ask me. I’ll let you know what I think.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

The product phone was taken from the Cigar King website. 

Cigar Review #7 – HVC Pan Caliente

The Smoking Gun Cigar Review October 4, 2016

HVC – Pan Caliente

Robusto – (5 x 50)

In my search for new and exciting cigars, I recently came across HVC. The company was founded in 2011 by Reinier Lorenzo and started as a way of paying homage to Havana City, where he lived for most of his life. According to their website (www.hvccigars.com), their products are “inspired by the cigar tradition of Cuba, specifically Havana City, while incorporating the customs of our adopted U.S. home.”

I decided to write this review and post it prior to the arrival of Reinier Lorenzo, owner of HVC Cigars, to the Phoenix area on October 11. For those interested, there will be an amazing cigar dinner put on by Mitchel Hirsh owner of Cigar King at Sanctuary Resort on October 11th at 6pm. You will be able to meet and talk to Reinier Lorenzo, but also enjoy the opportunity to smoke three special cigars from the HVC line during a dinner pairing event.

So, in anticipation of the event, I picked up a few of the HVC sticks and gave them the once over. Here’s what I found:

A little history:

HVC is a relatively new company. They were founded in 2011. As mentioned above, Reinier Lorenzo is the owner and they have several lines within the brand. The Pan Caliente was the first one I’ve tried.

The name comes from Cuban slang and literally means “hotcakes,” but is intended to mean, “it’s selling like hotcakes.” I think it’s a good name, because this cigar could become a favorite. It’s a good stick at a great price!

Just like before, I’ll list the questions and give an answer for each—based on my personal smoking experience:

What are you smoking?

HVC Pan Caliente – Robusto (5 X 50)

Who makes it?

It is made by HVC Premium Cigar Company, owned by Reinier Lorenzo.

Where’s it from?

It’s produced at the Raices Cubanas factory, in Danlí, Honduras.

What other sizes are available?

It’s only available in a Robusto (5 X 50).

How much does it cost?

The Pan Caliente Robusto costs around $6.25 per stick, which is a great price for a cigar of this quality. It comes in a 25 count box, so that puts the price around $155, minus any discounts you might get on a box purchase.

How well is it constructed?

The cigar is beautifully constructed with a mahogany brown wrapper, small veins throughout, a light oily sheen and what I would call a marble head cap. I did some research and found out it’s actually called a “109-style cap”. So, what is that, you ask? That’s a good question. I tried to find some information on it, because honestly, I didn’t know.

A cuban 109 style cap is designed to allow the smoker, through the depth of the cut, to control the draw on the cigar. If you cut it shallow (close to the tip) you will get a tighter draw, and if you cut down further, a looser one. The shape is kind of like the end of a classic fountain pen cap. Its domed and perfectly rounded. It sort of looks semi-spherical, like half of a marble. I don’t know anything else about how it’s done, but I know I like it!

What’s the blend (or, at least, the wrapper)?

Although the cigar is produced in Honduras, it appears to be a Nicaraguan puro (that means all of the tobacco used, comes from Nicaragua). The blend is listed as “Made with the finest leaves from Aganorsa farms in Nicaragua.” So, not only is it all from Nicaragua, it’s from the same farm! No other information is given about the blend, other than the wrapper, which is Nicaraguan Criollo ’98.

How did it light?

The light was perfect.

How’s the draw?

I cut it a shallow, so my draw was a little tighter than normal. But, that’s what I like. It was a firm but smooth draw.

How does it burn?

No problems from either example. Good burn- a nice tight ash!

Is there a predominate flavor/taste?

When I first smelled this cigar, I experienced notes of leather and a light sweetness. The foot was very similar, but with less of the sweetness that I picked up on the wrapper. On the dry draw, I did notice more of a grassy quality. When I lit it, the grassy/hay flavor was predominate, but the sweetness was still there. A couple of draws into it, I was hit with some black pepper on the back of my tongue, which I love. The combination of sweet and spicy is one of my favorites.

Did it change as you smoked it?

The flavor became more bold as I smoked it. I tasted more pepper and it finished with a punch of spice that made me want to keep smoking (even through I was about to burn my fingers).

How would you describe its strength: mild, medium, or strong?

Although, it started fairly mild, there were very pleasant changes throughout the length of the cigar. I would have to call it a medium (when you average it out from start to finish).

Would you smoke it again?

I would love to smoke it again. I’m also trying some of the other cigars in the line. (While I’m writing this, I’m smoking an Edición Especial 2015, which I will review shortly).

Should I try it?

Yes! Right before the FDA Deeming Rule came into effect, earlier this year, new cigars were flooding the market. You’ve probably seen some brands pop up in your local shops and on-line that you’ve never heard of or seen before. While HVC isn’t that new, you still might not have heard of it. It’s definitely worth a try. If you’re looking for something with a little sweetness and good amount of pepper, this one’s for you.

Do you have an extra that you’ll give me?

I know, this question is getting old. And, the answer is still, no. You can find them in more and more brick and mortar cigar stores, as the company expands their market. They have great reps out there (like Anthony and Melanie Cantelmo, of Fear the Beard Cigar Brokerage) and the word is getting out about these great cigars.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, you should try to attend the dinner I mentioned earlier. It’s always great to get together with other cigar enthusiasts, have a great meal, and smoke some good cigars. (And, for some reason, they always taste better when you smoke them with the person that made them)!

Conclusion:

HVC Pan Caliente is a fantastic cigar at a very reasonable price. You might have to look around a bit to find it, but your search will be rewarded with a complex, flavorful and tasty cigar. Just because you might not have heard of something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, right? There are so many great cigars out there! Smoke them. Try them. Enjoy them. You might just find a new favorite.

So, that’s it for this one. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and, perhaps, you learned a thing or two. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through this page. I’m always happy to answer questions or tell you about what I’ve been smoking. Also, if you liked, appreciated or hated my review, let me know. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don’t let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!

Product photo was taken from the HVC Premium Cigar Company website, located at http://www.hvccigars.com/#/shop/20772.