One of the joys of being in the Cigar Biz for more than a quarter of a century is the fact that I have had the opportunity to smoke just about every premium cigar ever made. I must admit though, today it is getting harder to keep up with the workload. It seems that with every stick that is retired to the ashtray, a new one is hitting our store shelves. (I’m happy to report that our beloved industry is in the midst of a major Renaissance!) The majority of these are limited production, independently owned cigar companies making “boutique” cigars. Unlike a large cigar company with a myriad of brands in its portfolio, the boutique cigar will have just a handful of vitolas, all under a single brand name. If you don’t do your homework, this Small Batch invasion can be very perplexing, but discovering new brands is what makes this centuries old hobby so much fun!
Not to be outdone by all of these new kids on the block, one of the major players in the industry, Altadis USA has three new cigars that continue to redefine the company’s once conservative, mainstream profile. Today, we are going to take an in depth look at all of them. I’m excited! Are you?
For those of you not familiar with Altadis, they are responsible for many of the world’s most renowned brands including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, and Trinidad. In fact, these guys have been cranking out great cigars since 1918. Over the years, Altadis U.S.A. has grown into one of the largest cigar manufacturers in the world and has gained access to the best tobacco leaves from growers worldwide. Today, they are always poised to create new brands that will accommodate the ever-changing tastes of the modern smoker, and so far, they are off to a great start. So let us a take a close look at the latest goodies that Team Altadis has to offer.
Romeo y Julieta RYJ
Altadis USA released the RyJ by Romeo y Julieta late in 2013. Not exactly a new brand, but, since some of you may not have been fortunate enough to smoke one, and it is their first Nicaraguan Puro, It certainly warrants another look.
RyJ by Romeo y Julieta utilizes a Nicaraguan Corojo Jalapa wrapper that is silky smooth and milk chocolate in color. A double binder from the Estelí & Jalapa valley growing regions in Nicaragua and a vintage blend of 2010 Nicaraguan long-fillers completes package.
But how does it taste you ask?
Let’s go to the video where are very own, the lovely Nick Libretti, better known as the #CIGARchitect will give you an in depth review of this beauty.
H. Upmann Golden Nicaragua
The legendary H. Upmann brand, established on Cuba in 1844 one of oldest and most reliable marques in the industry has just gotten a major face-lift!
Set aside to age in cedar since 2012, this brand new offering is now a coveted treasure featuring the very best that Nicaragua has to offer.
Full-flavored and literally overflowing with rich, sweet and spicy flavors, H. Upmann Golden Nicaragua features a lustrous Cuban-seed wrapper grown in an area of Jalapa that receives early-morning sunlight, and afternoon shade from the adjacent mountains. The binder—also Cuban-seed tobacco—is grown in the Estelí area where the natural cloud cover allows just enough sun to result in full and robust flavor without any harsh or bitter notes. This blend of double-fermented leaf from Estelí, Jalapa, and the small La Comia farm is finished with just a touch of Honduran tobacco to round out the cigar into a truly luxurious experience befitting the Upmann name.
Now it’s time for you to light up a stogy, grab some popcorn, and sit back and relax as our vivacious and adorable Nick Libretti, #CIGARchitect extols the virtues of this stunning stick.
Romeo y Julieta Star Crossed Dark
When fashioning the original Romeo y Julieta Star Crossed, Altadis USA set out to create a bold bountiful medium-bodied premium stick that captured the essence of this legendary brand while still offering some luxurious nuances for the modern smoker. Now on the heels of this bestselling offering, we are proud to introduce the Romeo y Julieta Star Crossed Dark. The idea for this venture came to us because we wanted a Romeo that utilized one of the hottest wrappers out there, the” Ecuadorian Habano”. Our resident experts in conjunction with the nice folks at Altadis felt this beautiful leaf would perfectly compliment the Star Crossed line! A lot of time, effort, and sampling went into choosing the perfect mixture of top quality tobaccos to earn the title of Romeo Star Crossed Dark, and boy did we find the winner! This new cigar is more robust than the original, and it literally blew us away with its sweetness and smooth, well-balanced flavor profile. An aggressive Romeo is what we wanted and it is exactly what we got. More importantly, we also think this is exactly what you want. We challenge you to experience the Dark, and enjoy what we think is one of the finest Romeo Y Julieta’s ever created.
Our resident Romeo, the sexy #CIGARchitect Nick Libretti,nearly jumped off his balcony after smoking this Dark gem. Just listen to his passionate review!
Where can you get all three of these top-quality smokes? Right here at JR Cigar your one stop shop for all of your smoking needs! And for hours of entertainment, and cigar knowledge, including interviews with many of the big players in the industry, be sure to follow the #CIGARchitect, and crew, on our sensational YouTube channel!
So while sitting back with an astounding maduro Robusto, that was rich, sweet and loaded with zesty notes of sweet spice and cocoa, (more about that later), I began thinking about how many new premium cigars crafted by up and coming stogy rock stars have hit the scene in just this past year alone. That would be a bad thing if all these new sticks were crap, but these new young guns are cranking out some real quality products. Some might say that we are in the midst of a new Renaissance in the tobacco industry. Skeptics would disagree, claiming that the market is over-saturated. Just follow any internet cigar group and watch this endless battle rage on. At one point, Padron was a new company, and so was Arturo Fuente and Drew Estate, just to name a few. New brands provide energy into the market, a breath of fresh air, and they keep things new and exciting. In addition, it keeps the older established companies on their toes so they can never rest on their Laurels, (Or Hardy’s for that matter)! Best of all, it boosts the economy, both in the countries of origin, and right here in the States.
Therefore, I say, (for what it’s worth) keep bringing on the goodies; you just can’t have too many great cigars to choose from!
Speaking of new cigars, we have a real top-quality gem that is making a lot of (good) noise in the industry.
The Congress Cigar Company and its leading brand, La Palina, had its beginnings when Samuel Paley emigrated from Ukraine in the late 1800s.
Arriving in Chicago, Sam started his career in a local cigar factory as a lector. That person reads either fiction or popular current event stories to the rollers to break up the monotony, and to keep them from slapping a moist wrapper leaf on a co-worker's head for sipping his espresso too loudly.
His interest in the tobacco industry steadily grew, and Sam devoted his personal time to studying cigars, the nuances of their blending and the tradition of their manufacture. His employer eventually recognized his diligence, and Sam was promoted to roller and then blender.
In 1896, Sam opened a cigar shop of his own in Chicago with an adjacent factory that he named Congress Cigar Company. Their first product was La Palina, in honor of his wife Goldie Drell Paley. Sam was a turn-of-the-century master artisan and would sit in the window every day rolling cigars.
His dedication and skill made the brand a household name and it shared a spot among the best smokes of the day. Sadly, when Sam retired in 1926, his beloved La Palina retired with him.
Bill Paley, a third generation cigar maker, learned an important lesson about quality from his grandfather’s proud history with La Palina and Congress Cigar. Those values would guide the Paley’s for the next three generations and would take Bill Paley back to his roots, and the resurrection of this once famous brand.
This iteration isn’t just some run-of-the-mill remake of an old brand looking to make a quick buck, Paley set out to create some edgy modern nuances to super-charge the classic original recipe.
La Palina cigars are available in two incredibly tasty varieties!
La Palina Classic La Palina Classic cigars are medium-to-full-bodied, earthy, smooth, and brimming with a perfectly balanced combination of sweet and spicy goodness, thanks to its mouthwatering blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan long fillers, a silky Ecuadorian binder, and a deep and oily Brazilian Habano seed wrapper.
La Palina Black Label
This amazing premium handmade is wearing a lovely seamless Brazilian Habano wrapper that is black as coal, and glistening with oil. Underneath reside some of the finest aged Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers held together by a bold and zesty Ecuadorian binder.
Being a huge maduro maven, I chose the La Palina Black Label Robusto to smoke while writing this blog. If you will kindly revert to the very beginning of this story, I believe I suitably described its magnificent flavor… I’ll bet you guys were going crazy trying to figure out what I was smoking! No? … Oh, well!
Anyway, whether you smoke the Classic, Black Label, or both, rest assured, you are in for a very special treat!
Gurkha Cigars, which claims to have the world’s most expensive cigar—His Majesty’s Reserve – is going upscale once more with another pricy stick. His Majesty’s Reserve is infused with Louis XIII Cognac and that costs about $2500 per bottle -- each one of the cigars costs about a grand. The newest entry to Gurkha is going to be called the Maharaja, which will only cost $500 per cigar. The new Maharaja, according to the release, is a “secret blend of the best quality tobaccos available” using a Maduro wrapper over Dominican binder and filler. If you are looking for this one, good luck - it is extremely limited. Only 1,000 cigars are to be made. They will come in humidors of 10 and there are only going to be 100 boxes.
General Cigar has a much more affordable option…the new Punch Signature. The company just announced the yearly release of the Punch Rare Corojo and now comes the Signature. Now not many details are available about it yet…the cigar debuts the first of March. But in the meantime, the sarcastic Mr. Punch is in full glory, accepting twitter photos and making comments about them making memes on his new webpage. (Example: Don’t smoke premium cigars, you must like Sex and the City too)
The new Punch is coming out of General’s Honduran factory:
Master Blender Agustin Garcia hinted that Punch Signature “was inspired by the original Punch” and that it “mixes tradition with modern tastes.” He also said that he and his team “spent three years developing the blend.”
Here is info on the box and band…
The band is a re-creation of artwork developed in the 1800s for the first Punch cigars. The back of the band features Mr. Punch and his dog, Toby - a throwback to the original Mr. Punch character.
The box will hold 18 cigars and features an acrylic window on it. Details about the blend and prices will be released as we get closer.
La Aurora is the oldest cigar factory in the Dominican Republic. They’ve been making cigars since 1903…a long time. And La Aurora is known for its quality. That you know, but for most of you the name Rene Castañeda means nothing. However, Rene is a friend of mine for a long time. We have worked together in the past and Rene knows a thing or two about cigars. Recently, he has come out with his own brand of cigars called simply Castañeda. I will be honest and tell you that he did not blend these himself, although he had worked on the blends. Instead these were some ideas and blends from La Aurora. (Rene and I both used to work for the company.) Rene was wandering around the factory and tried these blends and realized there was a big market for them. Having a good relationship with JR, Rene has given them to us at a great price. (Ya see Rene used to live close to the mother ship in New Jersey and still carries his Jersey cell phone number.)
All of the tobaccos in these cigars are over 2 years old and the cigars have been resting for at least 3 months making certain the tobaccos have married and provide a clean smooth smoke. Honestly, I did not know about this until I happened to be talking to Rene and he said he forgot to tell me before. The cigars come with different wrappers and blends-- Cameroon,Connecticut, Corojo, Double Maduro, Maduro and Ecuador Sumatra. If you like La Aurora products, you are going to love these cigars. There is something for everyone here and the prices are terrific.
Punch is making its annual release of the Rare Corojo. This was a cigar that was around for a long time, but was discontinued when there was not enough wrapper. In 2001, it was re-introduced, albeit on a limited basis. It comes out during the winter and when it is gone…well you know. The Rare Corojo uses an Ecuadoran Sumatran wrapper over Connecticut Broadleaf for a deep rich taste. The fillers give it some spice as they come from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras.
For 2015 there are going to be two new entries to the Rare Corojo line… the El Diablo, which is a 6.5” x 66 big beefy cigar with a suggested retail of $8.25 and the Rare Lapiz, a unique figurado measuring 6.75” x 56. These will come in ten count boxes and will be the rarest of the Rare Corojos. Overall this is a line of Punch that sometimes gets overlooked. The flavors are great and with pricing from $3.99 to $8.25 retail…it is a pretty good deal as well.
When it first came out, the Camacho Corojo was one of the strongest cigars on the market. The Camacho Corojo today is still up there in terms of strength, but others have surpassed it going further. (An example is Aging Room’s Bin #1.) But starting next month, Camacho is going back to its roots, trumpeting the Corojo as “The Original Bold Smoke”. A part of the re-launch the company is adding two new sizes to the Corojo line…A Corojo Gordo at 6” x 60 and a Corojo Robusto Tubo. They will be shipping soon. The Corojo originally came out in 2000. The first addition to the line was the Diploma that initially was only available to retailers who made the trip down to Camp Camacho. Since then Camacho added the lighter Connecticut, the Criollo, the Triple Maduro, the Ecuador and more recently the Double Shock and the Blackout.
But the Corojo was always the workhorse of the line. Corojo was originally developed in Cuba in the 30s and 40s and was so named because this hybrid was grown on the El Corojo farm. Corojo is a hybrid of Criollo and Sumatran and became a very much in demand wrapper for Cuban cigars. According to the Camacho release:
Since its development and through the Cuban revolution, the famed Corojo seed thrived and continued to gain global notoriety. It was until 1978, when a widespread devastation of blue mold hit the island, that the story of Original Corojo and tobacco in Cuba begins to take a different course. After the attack of ’78 – ‘79, the Estacion Experimental del Tabaco (San Juan y Martinez) begins to develop disease resistant hybrids, 208 new strains to be exact. However, only two made the cut and are known today as Havana 92 and Havana 2000. With new hybrids in hand, Cuba bid farewell to the famed seed and in 1996 the last crop of Original Corojo touches Cuban soil.
Julio Eiroa and his son Christian (the family that developed the Camacho Corojo) got some of the original seeds and began growing it in the Jamastran Valley of Honduras. Today Camacho is owned by Davidoff, but still uses that Corojo tobacco.
The new Corojos will retail for $8.50 for the Gordo and $7.25 for the Tubo. Also Camacho is running a special starting next week…buy a box and get a four pack of the Corojo Robusto free.
The regular Romeo’s come in a red box, this new Añejo is distinguished by its brown box. According to the company, this newest release from Romeo y Julieta is rich and robust with subtle notes of coffee and dark chocolate. Its blend uses a hearty mix of double fermented vintage Nicaraguan and Honduran sun-grown tobaccos that were aged in special cedar cajones. The wrapper is Connecticut Broadleaf from 2010 and the binder is a 2008 vintage Dominican Olor…the fillers are from 2009. The Añejo will come in three sizes—Robusto at 5” x 54, Toro at 6” x 54 and a Piramide at 6.125’ x 52. The retail price for them will be from $8.75 to $9.25. They should be shipped in the next week or so.
The Quesadas are also busy with their Casa Magna line. The Casa Magnas have been a hit since they first came out. They were named Cigar of the Year back in 2008. A few years back they released the Casa Magnus Domus Maximus, which was a limited edition release. After that, about five years ago, they renamed it the D. Magnus in a non-limited release form using the same blend but with a wrapper from a different year. The latest version of the Casa Magna is the D. Magnus II. The Quesadas are also going to put out three new sizes this year, but these will be limited. Coming later this month will be the first new size, the Trajan. It is a 5” x 60 in a D shape, think one quarter box pressed. It will have the same blend as the regular D. Magnus line, but because of the shape, the filler ratios were adjusted to keep the flavor the same. The Trajan will be joined by the Hadrian and the Marcus Aurelius. The trio will be known as “The Three Good Emperors” because their reigns marked the apex of the Roman Empire. Says Reilly:
The purpose of “The Three Good Emperors” series is to celebrate our 5th year producing the D. Magnus brand. It has been a huge hit for us and thanks to the cigar devotees of D. Magnus II and their support, we are able to introduce some new, unique sizes with even more affordable pricing. That’s quite a trick when you consider the difficulty of rolling such complex vitolas.
The other two will be released later in the spring. The retail price for the Trajan will be $8.50.
For the past several years, the Quesada family has been releasing special cigars in the fall to coincide with Oktoberfest. The idea behind the blend is that the cigars pair very well with the traditional German Oktoberfest beers. Problem is they often sell out rather quickly. Another problem is that while the Oktoberfest cigars are fun for Terence Reilly who is a family member and runs the U.S. operation of Quesada and loves him some beer… He is half Irish and that meant the Spring and St. Patty’s Day was unrepresented. No more. TJ and the family have come up with a new cigar just in time for St. Patty’s Day called the Quesada Keg.
This is the first Quesada cigar to be made outside the family’s factory in the Dominican Republic. The reason according to Terence:
Initially, we couldn’t find the right blend in the Dominican to match the? tasting notes of the more popular Irish stouts as we had done with marzen beers for Oktoberfest so we turned to our friends the Plasencias in Nicaragua.
But through the two factories and families, they were able to find the exact blend they wanted. The Keg uses a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper over Nicaraguan fillers and binder. It will come in a unique Keg of 21 toro (6” x 50) cigars and will retail for under $8. If you see it, get it fast. This is a very limited cigar - only 250 kegs will be made.
Ok not really a ghost, but Spectral is a phantom-like figure…kinda like a ghost. It also is a new-old cigar for sale from Flor de Gonzalez. The company has been making cigars since the Boom but has generations of tobacco experience going back to Cuba growing the leaf in the fields of Las Villas in Santa Clara, Cuba. About 13 years ago, Yadi Gonzalez took over from her father working on the brands. The company has made some terrific cigars like the 90 miles (which signifies the distance between Key West and Havana and the watery gap that Yadi crossed as a child in a rickety boat with many other refugees). There is also the top rated 90 miles 1980 edition (signifying the year Yadi made it to America). In addition to making their own cigars, sometimes the company made smokes for others. One such company requested a big order but then went out of business. The cigars were made, but ended up in Yadi’s storage. It took several years to get them free and now they are on the market. Yadi has called them Spectral. The original cigars had old tobacco to begin with—an Ecuadoran Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Peruvian fillers and were delicious. They have been resting for the past 5 years as Yadi got final custody of them. She says once she figured out that she would be able to sell them, she ordered more from her factory in Nicaragua and while they don’t have the extra five years of aging on them she says the latest batch of sticks are aging and are even better! Spectral comes in three sizes: Atom at 5.5” x 44, Cation at 5” x 50 and Proton at 6” x 50. And they are affordable.