Happy New Year 2016!

Happy New Year 2016!

Can you believe that it’s already 2016? Seriously, it feels like just yesterday that President Barack Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba. To think that was more than a year ago now!

There’s been a lot of news this year both on the Cuban normalization front and with other developments. Let’s check it out.

Legal Stuff:

  • In February, Nebraska passed a smoking ban exemption bill to allow smokers to again enjoy cigars in bars and shops.
  • In June, Louisiana rejected an amendment which would have imposed a tax on premium cigars.
  • Massachusetts meanwhile decided to crack down in October. New laws prohibit sales such as “buy one, get one free” and other promotions in cigar shops. The new restrictions also prohibit internet sales. Cigar-branded merchandise like apparel can no longer be sold in cigar shops, and shops must also display official warnings.
  • Cleveland recently raised the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21.

So on a legal front, it’s been a mixed bag—good news in some states and bad news in others.

Industry News:

  • Davidoff made a major land acquisition in Nicaragua and Honduras: 150 hectares in all. This together with a new factory will allow the company to expand production starting in January of this year.
  • President Dan Carr and General Cigar have parted ways. The new president is Regis Broersma.
  • The Cigar Association of America is under new leadership as well, having recently elected Javier Estades of Tabacalera USA as its new chairman.
  • There have been developments all year in the normalization process between Cuba and the USA, but most of the adjustments have been minor, and the trade embargo is still in effect. We are still pretty far from unrestricted travel between the two countries, so we’ll all have to hold our breaths and wait for things to play out.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good year for the cigar industry, even though we’ve still been dealing with some regulatory challenges in the US. At least a couple of states have actually lifted restrictions or rejected tax hikes, and the industry itself is very healthy. The US-Cuba normalization process sure feels like it’s taking forever, but even baby steps are huge after half a century of animosity. I can tell that we’ve got another bright year ahead of us. So pull out your favorite cigar pairing and let’s make a toast to 2016!

H. Upmann Naturals (Vintage Review)

H. Upmann Naturals

Origin : CubaH. Upmann
Format : Panetela
Size : 6.1 x 37 (155 x 15 mm)
Box date : 1970's
Discontinued in the 80's
Price : roughly $20-25/cigar
More info about purchasing H. Upmann cigars...

There is an excitement that portends the smoking a Cuban cigar that has aged in a tube for roughly 40 years and the natural bias to presume this will be a spectacular smoke, one is shocked by the plain ugliness of this cigar. For comparison purposes, I took a photo of the H. Upmann Naturals next to a current production H. Upmann Royal Robusto.

H. Upmann Naturals and Royal Robusto

H. Upmann Naturals were machine-made cigars always sold in tubes. Discontinued in the early 1980s. Not sure of the box year, but I’d guess late-1970s.

Read the full review of H. Upmann Naturals (Vintage Review)...

Are Cabinet Selections Superior to Dress Boxes?

Recently we had a reader write in with the following question:

“Do you think cabinet selections are somewhat better than dress boxes?”

This is a good question and well worth addressing. For those not already familiar with the different ways that cigars can be packaged, dress boxes and cabinet selections are both common styles.

A dress box of Bolivars

A dress box is also known as a “semi-plain box.” This is the most common type of packaging you will come across, and basically the default for most purchases. A dress box is typically made of either cardboard or wood, and usually includes some kind of finishing material on top like decorative paper. On top of that go all the logos and seals you expect to see identifying the brand.

Cabinet Selection Box (SLB)

A cabinet selection is a large square / rectangular box made out of Spanish cedar. It may also be known as a “slide-lid box” or sometimes just “SLB” or “cabinet.” As these names indicate, a cabinet selection usually is closed with a wooden slide-lid. Sometimes the lids are hinged. Usually around 20-50 cigars are packed into a cabinet selection.

A lot of people say they prefer to purchase cabinet selections rather than cigars in dress boxes. There really is no “better” here, since it is very much a matter of subjective preference.

What are the advantages of going with a cabinet selection? Most smokers who prefer them say that they like them better because:

  • Cabinet selection boxes are often not as cramped as the dress boxes, so the cigars have more room to breathe. (Cigars in cabinet selections are often pretty cramped, though.)
  • The cigars in cabinet selection boxes are in direct contact with cedar. This (apparently) imparts something to the flavor profile of a cigar. This actually is probably the case no matter what material you store your cigars in. But many people prefer the cedar flavor to the flavors that are imparted from dress boxes and other types of containers.
  • Maturation. For the two reasons above (room to breathe and contact with cedar), it is commonly believed that cabinet selections are better for maturing cigars than dress boxes. Some smokers feel they age faster. Others feel they simply age better.
  • Presentation. Many people prefer the cabinet selection boxes over the dress boxes for aesthetic reasons. Cigar smoking engages all the senses, so this is a completely sensible point of view.
  • Psychology. Since cabinet selection boxes have a reputation of distinctiveness over dress boxes, many people just prefer them for that reason, and openly admit that they aren’t sure that cabinet selection boxes really make their cigars taste better. They just feel good buying them.

In short, all of these advantages are somewhat hypothetical. Even people who are fairly certain that cabinet selection boxes impart a better flavor will usually admit that they aren’t positive, as there is a lot of variation and inconsistency from one cigar to another. Personally I think out of the two main theories about flavors and maturation, the one about cedar makes the most sense.

In the end, whether you go with cabinet selections or dress boxes is up to you based on your own personal tastes. If you prefer cabinet selections, then by all means, go with them. If you don’t notice a difference, that’s fine too; not everyone does.

Juan Lopez Ideales (Regional Edition Austria)

Juan Lopez Ideales (Regional Edition Austria)

Juan LopezOrigin : Cuba
Format : Petit Robusto
Size : 102 x 19 mm (4 x 50)
Ring : 50
Released in : 2011
Price : ~9 EUR each
More info about purchasing Juan Lopez cigars...

Juan López is an old cigar brand in Cuba, dating back to somewhere around 1870, but it is not a very well-known brand. There are three regular production sizes: the Petit Corona, the Selección No. 1, and the Selección No. 2. Until 2006, Juan López also manufactured the Panatelas Superba and a Corona. In the recent years, Juan Lopez was mostly known for its regional editions, and we've reviewed quite a few of them on the blog: the Don Juan (Benelux, 2014), the Seleccion No. 3 (Benelux, 2010), the Maximo (Switzerland, 2008), the Short Torpedo (Caribbean, 2008)...

Back in 2011, three regional editions were released: the Distinguidos for Germany, the Supreme for Canada, and the Ideales for Austria. I had a chance to try the Austria edition, which I paid a bit less than 10 EUR per stick on my recent trip to Vienna.

Read the full review of Juan Lopez Ideales (Regional Edition Austria)...

Top 10 Short Cigars for Winter

Recently I posted on 5 Must-Have Accessories for Smoking Outdoors in Winter, and I got some great responses! Now that we’ve talked about how we stay warm and keep our cigars from drying out, I want to share some of what I’m smoking this winter with you. Six non-Cuban cigars followed by four habanos. These cigars are all on the short side, so they won’t keep you out in the cold for too long. Please note that these are not cigarillos, you'll still need at least 25 minutes to go through most of these cigars, and twice as much for a few robustos on the list.

Joya Red Short Churchill

Joya Red Short Churchill

This has become a very popular Nicaraguan puro over the past couple years, and it’s easy to understand why. The construction rocks, and the flavors are a tasty combination of earth, leather, and nuts with just a hint of plum and citrus to balance it out. Best of all, you can pick these up for around $6 each, which is just a crazy bargain for the quality. For winter, I smoke the Short Churchill, which measures 4 3/4 x 48.
[compare prices]

Herrera Esteli Short Corona Gorda Natural

Herrera Esteli Short Corona Gorda

Here is another short cigar you can get for around $7. This cigar was a collaborative effort between Willie Herrera and Drew Estate. Personally, I think it’s one of Drew Estate’s best. The stogie measures 4 7/8 x 46, and has a delicious, smooth, classic blend of flavors which is perfectly balanced. Because it’s so reasonably priced, you can really load up on these for the winter; it’s the perfect everyday smoke!
[compare prices]

Illusione Fume d’Amour Viejos

Illusione Fume d'Amour Viejos

This Nicaraguan puro measures 5 x 50, and it’s one of my very favorite cigars at the moment that I reach for when I have some more time and/or when it's not that cold outside. Illusione releases are a rare treat, but they have real staying power—I’ve been enjoying these since their release last year, and I don’t imagine I’ll tire of them anytime soon. Perfect draw and a razor sharp burn make for a smooth smoking experience. Flavors include a wonderful mesh of sweet and spicy: cocoa, nuts, and cream sprinkled with cinnamon and red pepper. I love those spicy notes on a cold winter’s day!
[review] [compare prices]

Oliva Serie G Special G

Oliva Serie G Special G

If you’re in search of a classic cigar which has built up a loyal fan base over the years and is perfect for winter, look no further than the Oliva Serie G Special G. This is a squat Perfecto measuring just 3 3/4 x 48. Don’t be fooled by the small stature of this cigar, however—it is a flavor giant! Hay, hazelnuts, and spice pack a memorable punch. Even on a super cold day, this smoke will feel like it is over way too quickly. The good news is these only cost around $4 per stick, so you can stock up.
[review of the maduro robusto] [compare prices]

Ortega Mini

This cigar includes filler leaves from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, a Nicaraguan binder, and a Brazilian wrapper (for the maduro; there are also habano and natural versions). It measures 4 x 38, and features a great mix of cedar, cocoa, and pepper. There are no surprises here, no major twists or turns, but it is quite enjoyable. The only drawback I’d cite with this one is that it tends to get a little harsh near the end, so you can’t really smoke it down to the nub. Oh yeah, and these are really cheap, like $3 per stick.

H. Upmann Sun Grown Short Churchill

H. Upmann Sun Grown

These cigars measure 4.5 x 54, and are rolled in sun-grown Ecuadorian wrappers with Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers and a broadleaf binder. It’s a mellow smoke with notes of wood and leather and sound construction. The flavor profile is simple, but sometimes simple is what you want. In particular, this cigar stands out to me for its sweet, unique aroma.
[review of the magnum] [compare prices]

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (Cuba)

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos

This short robusto was among our favorite Cuban cigars last year. It measures just 4 x 50, and it’s reasonably priced around $9. Construction is always good, and the flavors—lots of cocoa and spice—are perfect for the holidays. As a bonus, the flavors have actually improved with time; a little aging does these cigars a lot of good. You can smoke the Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto right down to the nub without a hint of harshness.

H. Upmann Petit Corona (Cuba)

H. Upmann Petit Corona

Another H. Upmann, but a Cuban this time (and JFK's favorite by the way)! This petit corona measures around 5 inches and features great, consistent construction and delicious earthy flavors with some spice thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing radical or unexpected here, but you don’t always want a lot of curveballs. At $7 per stick, it’s a great value. This is a pretty well-known cigar, but I still think it deserves more props. Give it a try this winter.

Montecristo Petit Edmundo (Cuba)

Montecristo Petit Edmundo

This short robusto measures around 4 1/3 inches and sells for around $11. It’s a great-looking cigar with an oily wrapper and awesome construction. The burn is pretty straight and does a good job self-correcting (I love low-maintenance cigars, especially in the winter; I want to keep my hand warm in my pocket, not constantly be adjusting a wavy burn line). Flavors include dry cedar and bitter chocolate. There’s an amazing mix of saltiness and sweetness with just a hint of pepper. You’re not going to find better balanced notes anywhere. The value is outstanding. Make sure you have enough time for this one though, I really don't like rushing a Petit Edmundo.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchill (Cuba)

Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchill

If youre looking for a reasonably priced Cuban cigar for winter that offers a short smoking time, this petit robusto is the way to go. The length is around 4 inches with a stout 50 ring gauge. The construction is as flawless as the appearance, and the stogie offers a delightfully complex bouquet of flavors including coffee, chocolate, leather and fruits. Its a very satisfying stick which you can smoke right down to the nub without heat or harshness.

So there you have it … 10 of the best short cigars for winter! You will find additional ideas in our selection of the best cigars under $5.
Now it’s your turn! What are your recommendations?

UPDATE: Readers' Suggestions

Here is a list of other great short smokes suggested by our readers:

The Robaina Farm, “Cuchillas de Barbacoa”

Alejandro Robaina Farm

We are pleased to welcome Matteo, who just joined our editorial team! Matteo has over 40 trips to Cuba under his belt and will be sharing his knowledge about the beautiful island from a cigars perspective.

I have been coming to this world renowned tobacco farm since sometime in 2005 while Alejandro Robaina, the farm's namesake, was still alive. Actually that isn't the name of the farm, although few know it by its real name (I always forget), Cuchillas de Barbacoa, most refer to it as the Robaina Farm including myself. A lot has happened since Alejandro's death and none of it has to do with Alejandro's grandson who now runs the farm. Bad weather over the last couple of years has devastated the region and the shortage of water today doesn't help. Even though production of tobacco had been down during that time, Robaina's farm still produced that little bit more than the rest. During the 90's there was no question that this farm was one of the best in the Vuelta Abajo region, 80% of the tobacco grown here during that time was good enough to be used for precious wrapper leaf compared with 35% on other farms.

Read the full review of The Robaina Farm, “Cuchillas de Barbacoa”...

Whisky Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky Review

Japanese whisky has become more and more popular around the globe over the past few years, and Hibiki has become a big name. More than ten different malt and grain whiskies were used to create this unified blend, sourced from Suntory’s Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries as well as the Chita grain distillery. The word “Hibiki” translates to “echo.”

This whisky comes in beautiful minimalist packaging. The box is mostly white with beautiful insignia and lovely typography. The same design is used again on the label of the bottle itself. The liquid inside is a warm golden hue.

Opening the bottle, I detect fruit, flowers, and vanilla. Oranges, pineapple, and bananas accompany a bouquet of roses, mellowed and sweetened by vanilla and a hint of spice. The smell pulls you right in, and I found myself very excited for the first sip! On the palate, you get plenty of orange and a hint of peach or apricot. The vanilla is easily detectable as well, and the spices taste like cinnamon and nutmeg. And unless I am mistaken, there is a hint of ginger. It adds a great kick and a little bite, and keeps the sweet flavors from getting out of line. There is a lovely long finish which is both spicy and sweet.

This is not a cheap whisky. You will pay at least $60 for it, and I have seen bottles go for close to $100. It is well worth it, though. The flavors are beautifully blended and balanced, and dare I say “harmonious”? Yes, this whisky has earned its name. Give Hibiki Japanese Harmony a try, especially if you are a lover of citrus and flowers.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony : Review Summary

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Orange, pineapple, banana, rose, vanilla, spice.

Palate: Orange, peach, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.

Bolivar Poderosos (Regional Edition Benelux)

Bolivar Poderosos (Regional Edition Benelux)

Origin : Cuba
Format : Double PyramidBolivar
Size : 180 x 22 mm (7.1 x 54)
Released in : 2013
Box Code : MUR OCT2013
Price : ~$20 each
More info about purchasing Bolivar cigars...

Last month I took some well-needed healing time from a medical procedure done in late summer. While recuperating, I tasked my favorite tobacconist to find a good “value” type cigar, that embodied the spirit of the traditional Cuban while giving the average hobbyist the opportunity to indulge themselves without cleaning out their bank accounts to pay for it. Quite frankly, Bolivars are a brand that I often overlooked, but after consuming the box I just did, I certainly can say that I would be more open-minded to them being suggested to me in the future. Did the Bolivar Poderosos meet my expectations?? You bet they did, and then some. This smoke offered expected standards for a Cuban torpedo, but tossed in a few pleasant surprises to boot.

Read the full review of Bolivar Poderosos (Regional Edition Benelux)...

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