February 18, 2012

Heading to Procigar 2012

It is finally here! Early this Sunday, Mario and I will head south from Columbus to the Dominican Republic for the 2012 ProCigar Festival. Combined, this will be our third trip to the island, but a first for both of us in attending this fest. From all I've seen and read online, this looks like it's going to be a whirlwind of a trip with lots of dinners/parties/factory tours, and cigar smoking of course. I'm not sure how much access we will have to a strong internet connection, but I hope to update this post with news and photos while I am down there. I know Mario plans to make one of his signature videos of the entire experience, but that will probably be posted a few weeks after the trip. For the quickest updates from the festival, make sure you follow me (Dan) on twitter @reeve11 and Mario on twitter @cigarexplorer . Both of us use twitter a lot and I hope to grab a international data plan to be able to tweet from the festival.

Wish us luck and see you guys from the Dominican.


February 16, 2012

Cigar Review: Ortega Serie D

Today's review is on the first release from Eddie Ortega's new company, Ortega Cigars. At the end of January, Eddie publicly announced that he was leaving his partnership and previously successful company EO Brands to venture out on his own.

A quote from the official press release: “I’ve wanted to do this for quite some time and now is the right time,” said Eddie, who also said “Ortega will focus on developing long lasting brands at affordable prices. I have no interest in the so called limited release market, plenty of those are around. I’d much rather build solid brands that consumers enjoy and will be around for years to come,”

I am very happy for Eddie as a businessman and as a friend, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with in his new venture. I'm also very happy to hear that he will continue to work with the My Father factory to have his cigars made.  It's kind of sad to see that the O of EO brands will no longer be promoting the 601 line (a cigar I've smoked a ton of throughout the years), but I am sure they will continue on to make great cigars, also.

(Due to the size of this cigar, this review is only in two parts instead of the traditional thirds.)

Vitola: Corona
Length:  4.5
Ring Gauge: 48
Wrapper: Mexican San Andreas Maduro
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
Price: $5.99
Smoking Location: New Havana Cigars
Beverage: Water

The first thing I want to mention about the Ortega Serie D is the band. I like the direction Eddie went here. It's not overly complex, but still very visually appealing and has a modern feel to it. The red primary color is a nice contrast to the very dark, almost black wrapper leaf on the cigar. As well as the dark color, the wrapper has a lot of oils and looked appetizing. The pre-lit aroma was faint, but what I could smell was just a mild hay note. The cap clipped without problems and the cold draw tasted strongly of raisin. 

First Half   
From the first full draw on the cigar, a ton of flavor was being produced. The front end of the profile was a very pronounced baking chocolate; slightly bitter, but in a good way. The finish had a lot of pepper and created an interesting balance to the bite of the front flavor. In my opinion, they matched very well. About an inch into my Ortega Serie D the peppery finish turned into a extremely spicy cayenne flavor. Now I will say that I had a wonderful jerk chicken dinner with my valentine before I smoked this cigar, so maybe some of that was still on my palette, but I have had this combo chocolate/cayenne in cigars before. If you've been reading this site for awhile, you might recall that I compared this flavor in another cigar to a specialty ice cream we have here in Columbus called Jeni's Splendid ice cream -- they make something called Queen City Cayenne that is very similar. If you have anything like that where you live, then you will know the flavor I am writing about. The construction was excellent and the burn perfect. I would put the strength of the nicotine in the cigar in the medium range.      

Second Half and Final Thoughts
The second half on my Ortega Serie D saw the spicy finish fall off and be replaced by a warm raisin flavor. This taste was similar to the cold draw but even more in your face. The front of the profile was still a very rich slightly bitter baking chocolate. When I pushed the smoke through my sinuses, the chocolate seemed to really coat them and make for a long lasting flavor. It's been an hour since I put this cigar down and I still can taste it. Some cases that is bad, but in this case, it is not. Getting to the nub, the finish started to develop some raw sweetness. It didn't last long, but was an interesting finish. Again, I had zero problems with the construction and the strength never rose above medium.

My final thoughts on The Ortega Serie D? For Eddie's freshman effort with his own brand, I say he aced the test. Though being a quick smoke in this short size, the smoking experience was a journey from a nice, rich dark chocolate, to a spicy palate teaser with a sweet finish. I don't tend to smoke a ton of heavy chocolaty cigars over and over, but this is one I could. There are enough other flavors happening that I would not be bored smoking through a box of these. I hear a lot of people at my local saying they want a "flavorful, medium strength cigar". This is one they would enjoy.

Would I buy it again? Yes

Would I buy a box? In ten count boxes at around 6 bucks a stick, it's a guaranteed buy for me.


February 10, 2012

J. Fuego 777 Corojo “Paka”

Tonight's review is a cigar that traveled a long distance to get to me. The J. Fuego 777 Corojo “Paka” is a special size of the 777 blend produced specifically for Tamura's Fine Wine and Liquors B&M in Hawaii. 

A quote from Tamura's Fine Wine and Liquors website: At our last smoker event with Jesus Fuego back in April, Jesus decided to create an "Exclusive" smoke for us at Tamura's. The "Paka" is based off the 777 Corojo blend, but was kicked up a little to add some more spice. It has a pig tail cap and a "closed" foot. The purpose of the closed foot is so the smoker can get a little more taste from the wrapper leaf when they first light the cigar. A limited batch was made to test it out, so if you're curious, get your stick today!

A regular patron of Tamura's confirmed that there were only 200 boxes of these made. My friend Jon (Fia on the BOLT message board) sent me this stick and I want to give him a very grateful thanks because I don't think I would have managed to get my hands on one any other way. On to the review.

Vitola: Robusto
Length:  4.5
Ring Gauge: 52
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo
Binder: Nicaraguan Corojo
Filler: Nicaraguan Corojo
Price: $5.99
Smoking Location: New Havana Cigars
Beverage: Water

Just like the last review, I want to say this was a great size and shape cigar. The 52 ring gauge actually felt smaller and the closed foot at one end, and pigtail at the other, gave this stick a great look. The wrapper was a medium to light brown with a lot of oils. Interestingly, the cigar gave off almost no odor at the pre-light; a very slight smell of tobacco, but other than that, nothing. The pigtail clipped easily but the cold draw was nonexistent due to the closed foot. The flavor I did get from the tobacco on the head was very potpourri-ish.

First Third   
After torching a lot of the closed foot tobacco away, the cigar opened up nicely. I was a little nervous because this was one really "closed foot" and I thought the draw would be tough. Luckily I was proven wrong. The initial flavors I got were a lot of dry earthy tastes on the front with a sticky sweetness on the finish. Burning about an inch into the stick, I also started to get just a bit of pepper mixing with the sweet end. At this point, it was no where near the category of a spicy cigar, but there was a little pepper. The overall strength fell into the mild range.    

Second Third  
The only real change in the second third of my J. Fuego 777 Corojo “Paka”was on the front of the profile. The earthy flavors form the first third changed into more of a leather taste. For me this is a good thing because I prefer this flavor in cigars over earthy notes. The finish was still very sweet, with just a hint of pepper to knock it down. Still, at this point the cigar was in the mild strength range. If this was to be a beefed up version of the J. Fuego 777 Corojo it was not showing for me.

Final Third and Final Thoughts 
The final third of my J. Fuego 777 Corojo “Paka” had nothing new to add to the table. The flavors were the same as the second third and the strength also continued on in the mild range. I do want to point out how well this cigar was constructed. I only ashed this cigar three times and each of those was me knocking it off and not it falling off naturally. I never had to relight this stick and I never had any burning or tunneling issues.    

My final thoughts on The J. Fuego 777 Corojo “Paka”? This was a solid but average cigar. The flavor profile was there and the finish had a great balance, but it just didn't do much for me. It's a great cigar for people who like mild smokes or for people who are just getting into cigars because it is very easy on the body. That said, other than the cool shape, I don't really see any difference between this release and others in the J. Fuego 777 Corojo line. So seeking out this limited release would be more for the treasure hunt experience than the actual smoking experience you get from finding one, in my opinion. 

Would I buy it again? This is not my type of cigar, so I would not.

Would I buy a box? See above.


February 1, 2012

Undercrown Corona ¡Viva! by Drew Estate (pre-release)

Last Friday, Governors Smoke Shop (@GovernorsSmokes on twitter), a relatively new shop in the Columbus area, hosted a large Drew Estate event. Our local sales rep Sam Smerkol was there holding down the fort, as well as special guest David Lafferty Regional Manager East Coast for Drew Estate. If you have met David before, you will know that fun and craziness follows this guy around.

Here is a video we shot of the event:
Video - Event: Drew Estate Mega Event - Governor Smoke Shop, Westerville Ohio - Cigar Explorer from Cigar Explorer on Vimeo.

Sometime during the event, David handed me a new size of the Undercrown by Drew Estate called the "Corona ¡Viva!" to be released this spring. A quick Google search found this quote from Steve Saka President of Drew Estate regarding this new size: Corona ¡Viva! - 5 5/8 x 46 - slightly tweaked blend to increase the octane just a wee bit... did this figuring the guys most likely to desire this format are those with more experience and would desire a slightly stronger cigar (ME... lol) Keep in mind though the tweak keeps the UC blend intact, we didn't want to overshadow the natural sweetness or the creaminess of the core UC, so this is minor adjustment that I suspect many may not even notice. We probably won't even tell people... at least formally. (Source BOTL Website)

Undercrown has done very well and received much praise from the cigar blog world (if you want the whole story on how this cigar came about visit Tony's site here. It's got all the info you need and I won't need to repost it.) I've smoked well over a handful of Undercrowns, from samples at the tradeshow, to sticks from my B&M. Some I have liked, others I have not. Let's see how this new size held up.

Vitola: Corona ¡Viva!
Length:  5 5/8
Ring Gauge: 46
Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Negro
Binder: Connecticut Habano
Filler: Nicaraguan & Brazilian
Price: $?
Smoking Location: New Havana Cigars
Beverage: Water 

First off, I loved the size of this cigar. The classic Cuban corona size just really sat well in my hand and was a nice change from the big ring gauge cigars that seem to be dominating the market right now. The wrapper was a very dark brown color, almost black in some places, with a lot of oils that shimmered in the light. There were a few small veins but nothing that took away from the brilliant dark color. The pre-lit aroma had sweetness mixed in with some floral notes. The cap clipped easily and the cold draw tasted nutty and leathery.

First Third   
The first thing anyone smoking this cigar will notice right away is the amount of smoke this stick puts off. I've heard others say that Undercrown's "smolder". The Corona ¡Viva! is a perfect example of that. The resting smoke quickly filled the area of the lounge I was sitting in. The flavors in the first third were a little weak on the front with just some muted leather and sweetness, but the finish was powerful with lots of dry cocoa. There was almost no spice in the cigar at this point, which I found interesting because I remember some other Undercrowns having some. The construction was perfect and the cigar's burn created a nice tight, compact ash. I would put the strength of the cigar in the solid medium range.  

Second Third  
The second third of my Undercrown Corona ¡Viva! is where things started to really get interesting. And by interesting, I mean awesome. On the front of each draw, I was met with a very different sweet flavor that had a bit of a twang to it. I wracked my brain over and over about what this flavor could be and the best I could come up with is it was almost candy like. Not sickeningly sweet candy (this is tobacco we're talking about, after all) but twangy with almost some tartness. I know to my readers that might sound crazy/dumb, but it's the best way I can describe it. The finish flavor was still a strong dry cocoa which, even with its strength in flavor, it faded away nicely to leave my palate feeling clean. Still no sign of  any problems with the construction or draw. Just like the first third, I would say the nicotine strength was in the medium range.  

Final Third and Final Thoughts 
The final third of my Undercrown Corona ¡Viva! continued on like the second third, but only increased in flavor strength. Once again, the front of the profile was dominated by the sweet tangy flavor which actually started to creep into the finish as well. It did not overpower the cocoa taste, but it was in there. I burned this cigar as far as I could and I can honestly say that even with how much I love the size, I wished it was longer. I did notice that the nicotine strength started to pick up toward the end of the cigar and I could feel my heart rate pick up a bit, so I guess I would put the final third in the medium to medium-full range.   

My final thoughts on The Undercrown Corona ¡Viva! by Drew Estate? This is a game changer for the Undercrown line. Like I said in the intro, I've had hit or miss experiences with this brand, but this was not just a hit...it was a home run. Once this cigar got heated up, the sweet twangy flavor was unique and popped on every draw and the dark cocoa finish ended the flavor experience cleanly. If the full release in the spring is anything like this sample, I just might have a new favorite from Drew Estate

Would I buy it again? Yes

Would I buy a box? This is for sure a box purchase cigar.