IPCPR Cigars: Quesada, Foundation and Cordoba & Morales

Quesada_Oktoberfest2016_NicTripBockHausI dug into the IPCPR samples humidor in the latter half of the week and gave some new cigars a try. The first out of the three was the Quesada Oktoberfest 2016 in the Nicaraguan Triple Bock Haus size, I comfortable 6″ x 56. I’ve smoked some older versions of this in the Uber size, the massive 6″ x 65 and enjoyed them, and this one was quite enjoyable as well.  I am aware that Oktoberfest isn’t until September, and I’m aware that not being a drinker the whole premise of pairing it with beer is lost on me. The Oktoberfest line has cigars that are made in both a Dominican and Nicaraguan blend, differentiated by the secondary date band, the Nicaraguan having the red band, with the DR line having a blue one. The best I can find about the blend is that it’s a Nicaraguan Puro, made by Placencia in Esteli, no other details were available. I like the cigar, it has a nice, bold flavor that was satisfying, but I was a bit distracted by the draw. Humid evenings will do this to some cigars sometimes, so I can’t assign blame to the cigar, and I just checked the IPCPR samples humidor and it’s being Boveda controlled at 68%, Maybe I’ll try to bring that down a little, although the next few cigars I smoked from the same humidor (spoiler alert!) smoked spectacularly. Good smoke though, please let me know how it works with beer!

 

Foundation_Tabernacle_ToroSaturday afternoon I enjoyed a new cigar from Nick Melillo’s Foundation Cigar Co., the Tabernacle.  This is Nick’s Connecticut Broadleaf blend, and there have been those who compare is head to head with the Mi Querida from Steve Saka. Sure, Nick and Steve blended the Liga Privada No.9 for Steve’s palate, so there is definitely going to be some parallel, but let’s let these two great cigars stand on their own and not compare them to each other or the Liga No 9. The Tabernacle is produced at AJ Fenandez in Esteli, yet another great cigar from that factory. It has a Broadleaf wrapper over a San Andrés binder, with fillers from Esteli and Jalapa, I love the cigar already! The cigar had a perfect burn and draw, so there was no missing the great rich flavors of the broadleaf and Mexican, a nice sweet and earthy flavor. I say this often, but this is a cigar I’ll want to have in my humidors. I look forward to trying Nick’s other new blends, the Charter Oak, and maybe even the Upseters, although I’m always a little shaky when it comes to infused cigars. The Tabernacle is a winner.

 

CordobaMorales_Platino_DCLast night I went searching for a cigar for my evening walk, and I settled on the Cordoba & Morales Platino Double Corona, a big cigar at 7 ½”ish by 54 by my measuring (because there’s np mention of the Platino line on the website!). This cigar had a “bun” style pigtail cap and a covered foot, so I snipped off the cap and went right into lighting this so I got the full effect of the blast of flavor from the wrapper. I couldn’t find much out about this line, but I believe it to be a Sumatra wrapper. The first thing that came to mind when I lit this was that is had a savory, grilled beef kind of flavor, it was really quite different and appealing. This was another cigar that burned perfectly, with only a slight touch-up near the end, I don’t think that’s too uncommon with cigars this size. Oddly, this was the first Cordoba & Morales cigar I have smoked, and I look forward to smoking more of them. The Platino is an awesome smoke.  Here is a re-run of the video interview I did from the IPCPR show in case you missed it the first time around.

 

 

That’s all I have for today, until the next time,

 

CigarCraig

 

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Cornelius & Anthony Venganza Robusto

One of the booths I stopped at the IPCPR show and didn’t get to spend much time in was Cornelius & Anthony. They were busy every time I went by, which is a good thing for them. I wanted to say hello to Courtney Smith, which I did, but I didn’t get to meet Steve Bailey, which was disappointing. I’ve had the good fortune to sample the Cornelius line, as well as the Daddy Mac, both of which were excellent, with my personal nod going to the Cornelius, although I like the mellowness of the larger ring gauges to the Corona Gorda, which has a little more of a bite. Not to say the Corona Gorda isn’t excellent, it’s just different and that little bite covers the nuance that I like in the Toro. The Daddy Mac is also very good, and the new Venganza is a step up in strength. Both are made at the La Zona factory in Esteli, Nicaraugua, a factory producing some of the better cigars I’ve smoked over the last couple years.

 

Cornelius & Anthony is the premium cigar division of the Bailey’s tobacco company that’s been growing Flue Cured tobacco in Virginia since the 1860s. The family has been involved in tobacco for five generations and the parent company, S&M Brands makes Bailey’s, Tahoe and Riverside cigarettes and Lex12 electronic cigarettes. The Cornelius line is made at El Titan de Bronze in Miami.  They also have the rosado wrapped Meridian in the premium line, also made at La Zona.

 

CorneliusandAnthony_Venganza_RobustoOver the last couple evenings I smoked the Cornelius & Anthony Venganza Robusto, and it’s unusual for me to smoke the same cigar twice in a row, but this cigar was one I wanted to go back to. One was a sample from the trade show, and one was a sample that came in the mail.  Both had a nice, open draw, after straight cutting the first, I decided to V-cut the second. The V-cut restricted the draw a little, and gave me a little longer smoking time, which I liked. It started out with a bit of strength, them mellowed a little, but still had some punch throughout.  It went from spicy and woody to some nuts and coffee, with a bit of pepper throughout.  Venganza means vengeance in Spanish, and the cigar fits the name, as it is more aggressive than the other cigars in the line, but still balanced and full of great flavor.  I personally love the colors of the bands across the line, hardly a criteria for enjoyment, but it’s been hard for me to not pick one of these up as long as they are in my humidor. Great cigars!

 

That’s all for tonight, until the next time,

 

CigarCraig

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A Special Guest Article and a New Partagas and Joya de Nicaragua

I’m going to lead off with this great article Dan Colley wrote with some of his insight into the new regulations from his time working for the FDA. This covers the importation procedures, I’m hoping he offers more thoughts on the implementation of the regulations at a later date.

 

Many of you are likely familiar with my name. I am Dan Colley and have been a reader of and commenter to the CigarCraig blog for quite some time. What you may not know is that I am a retired Investigator and Compliance Officer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I left the Agency in the mid-1990s for work in the private sector. I have been retired now for about fifteen years I’ve been a cigar smoker since about 1967.

 

As someone who worked daily with the many requirements of the FDA, I have become intimately familiar with the import requirements that the law has put into place for many regulated products, from foods and drugs to medical devices, cosmetics and even tobacco products. The recent regulations that FDA has been charged with enforcing contain requirements that are new to the tobacco industry and I would like to provide you with some information about how those requirements will impact you, the cigars that you love to smoke and the tobacco industry in general.

 

It is important to know that the FDA and the U.S. Customs Service (Customs) work very closely together to enforce the various laws that regulate imports. Customs was first mainly interested in the collection of import tariffs, but as time has passed, they have joined their efforts with other Federal agencies who have authority over imported products. For example, the FDA has authority over foods, human drugs, animal drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, and tobacco that extend beyond taxes and tariffs. The procedures for allowing these products into the U.S. legally are essentially the same with very few differences.

 

I would like to briefly explain the physical process that imported products go through before entry into the U.S. The first thing that must occur when a foreign manufacturer wishes to import cigars into this country is that they make a declaration to the FDA and to Customs that a shipment is heading for the U.S. That declaration will usually tell those agencies what the shipment consists of, how it is arriving, where it will be offered for entry into the US and who the involved parties are. Typically, foreign manufacturers will use companies that consolidate shipments for ease and economy of transportation. When these freight consolidators are involved, they will make the required notifications to the U.S. agencies.

 

When the shipment arrives in the U.S., it is moved directly to what is called a bonded warehouse where it is held for government inspection. The consignee does not have access to the shipment at this point. Once the agencies are notified, policy dictates which path the shipment will follow.

 

There are several paths that are possible for these shipments to take. For example, some are merely “rubber-stamped” and allowed to proceed to the consignee without any action. This occurs when the agency has a long and successful relationship with the product and the manufacturer and has every reason to believe that the products comply with all requirements. That assumption is always based on historical data and not merely presumption.

 

Another path that imported products may follow is that of a simple examination. In cases like this, an inspector will go to the bonded warehouse and physically examine the shipment to see if it is what it is supposed to be and in the case of perishable items, the shipment is in good shape and not visually contaminated or adulterated. If no problems are identified, the inspector will file his paperwork with the FDA and the products is then released and may proceed to the consignee.

 

Since cigars do not meet the classic definition of “perishable goods”, they are primarily involved with what inspectors call a “paper chase”. Cigars require pre-market approval unless they were manufactured before the date that governing regulations were put into place, so it is not usually necessary to examine them for adulteration unless there is obvious physical damage to the shipment (eg: water damage, crushing, etc.). All the agency must do is verify that the cigars are either approved for sale in the U.S. or are ones that are “grandfathered” as being manufactured before the regulations became law. This is principally a paper exercise. FDA will review filings made by the manufacturer and will also examined specimens of the labels on the product to assure that they meet the requirements of the regulations. If they do, FDA releases the products. If they don’t, they enter the detention cycle.

 

The detention cycle can be involved and I will not delve into it very far. I will say that there are only a few possibilities for products caught up in this cycle. First, they can be denied entry outright and returned to the entity who shipped it. Another possibility is that the product may be reconditioned, if possible. This applies mainly to products with labeling non-conformances in which they may be brought into compliance by simply applying different labeling. There are other possibilities, but they are not generally applicable in the situation of cigars.

 

This rigorous inspection cycle will lead to a variety of other consequences as well. I’ve been told of people who order Cuban cigars from European retailers. They report that the shipments of contraband cigars arrive at their mailbox without any difficulty. This is likely because the shipper has a good relationship with U.S. Customs and its products proceed without examination. Now, with essentially every lot of imported cigars being examined as a result of the new regulations, this practice will likely come to a halt. Once an inspector sees “made in Cuba” on a box of cigars, all bets will be off. (Editor’s note: Many shipments of contraband cigars are not declared as cigars)

 

The bottom line is that if a cigar does not meet the letter of the law, it will not be allowed into the country. The process for making a cigar “legal” for domestic consumption is quite tedious and has not yet been completely defined by the FDA, but we can be assured, sadly, that it will be difficult and expensive for cigar manufacturers to import new blends of cigars into the country.

 

I hope that this has been enlightening for you. Since I have been away from FDA for quite some time, there are likely some differences in what they do with respect to regulated products, but I have learned from some former cronies who are still with the agency that the procedures remain essentially unchanged over the past 20 years.

 

Thank you Dan for that insiders look at the process! I think this is timely considering recent reports of cigar shipments being opened by customs, whole bundles of cigars cut in half and shipped on to the recipient as if nothing happened. Does it seem right for a government agency to destroy legal property and send it on with out so much as an apology? How is a retailer supposed to sell cigars that have been damaged like that, and they can’t return them for credit. This is where the new regulations are going to effect retailer’s bottom lines first.

 

Partagas_Ramon_y_Ramon_Single_Cigar EditI have a couple of IPCPR samples I wanted to talk about, first being the Partagas Ramon y Ramon Robusto. This line pays homage to Ramon Cifuentes, the founder of the Partagas brand, and uses tobacco that was grown in the Dominican Republic from vintage seeds from General Cigar’s library of seeds. The agronomists at General developed a process to regenerate these vintage seeds, and, if I recall, it takes several growing cycles to get a usable crop of tobacco with the right characteristics. The filler is composed of this special, old world tobacco, Nicaraguan Jalapa and Dominican Piloto Cubano, with a Dominican binder and a high priming Cameroon wrapper. This was one of the most interesting and enjoyable cigars I’ve smoked in a very long time. There was a spicy cinnamon flavor throughout the smoke which just kept making me think “wow, this is a delicious cigar!”. The burn and draw were perfect and the cigar had that signature round cap that General Cigar likes to use. This robusto’s size is a bit of a departure from the standard 5½” x 49 Partagas robusto, as they took the ring gauge up to 50. This a great smoke and the list price is in the $7.49-$8.99 range, very reasonable for a terrific cigar. Can you tell I was impressed? Photo is from General’s press kit, it was much better than mine!

 

JoyadeNicaragua_Joya Black_ToroAfter a visit to a newer local store, which I found to be rather lack-luster, with a poorly executed floor-plan and dirty and shabby lounge (although the company and the La Galera El Lector, a 6″x 54 toro which was really nice, but I failed to pay much attention to it), I had to break out the new Joya Black from Joya de Nicaragua. They are branding this along with the Joya Red and have re-branded the doble capa Cabinetta to fit the same design scheme. I’ve been looking forward to trying this San Andrés wrapped cigar since I heard about it. I probably could have chosen a better time when the ambient humidity wasn’t over 80%, as the cigar smokes a bit on the wet side. It had a great flavor though, I’ll be getting my hands on some more to smoke at the right moisture level. It was everything I want in a maduro, less the steamy smoke quality. Unfortunately, you can’t tell if a cigar needs to be dry boxed until it’s too late. Going back to the local shop I visited, it’s a shame that the owners of this chain did what I consider to be a half-assed job with this store. It’s in an area where an upscale, classy shop would do well, and it’s got more of a 7-Eleven feel to it. I hate to be so critical, but I was really disappointed in the place, but not surprised, based on some of the other stores in the chain. I’m sure my harsh criticism will be unpopular with certain people. On a positive note, the pricing was fine, the selection was not bad, although rather “safe”, and the cigar I bought and smoked there smoked well, despite the “store as a humidor” model (I wonder about the practicality of having a door to the outside directly into the humidified space, often they have to overcompensate for this and the cigars are wet).

 

That’s more than enough for now, I thought about breaking this up into two posts, but I am far to lazy for that on a Sunday morning. Until the next time,

 

CigarCraig

 

 

 

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IPCPR Cigars – Arandoza 5th Anniversary Toro

My appreciation for the Arandoza line goes back to early in 2013 when I smoked my first Arandoza Blue. I have since smoked a number of Blues, a bunch of Whites, my favorite, the Red, and some of the Defcon they released last year. I love them all, but particularly the Red, which is a heavy, lush San Andrés maduro with some horsepower. This year Robert Arango celebrates his fifth year with his fifth release, the limited edition 5th Anniversary.  This is limited to 500 boxes of ten, is a Nicaraguan puro with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. It’s offered in a 6″ x 52 toro only, and, like the rest of the line, is made in Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory.  At the show I spent the better part of an hour just hanging out with Robert and his wife Pilar just talking about dogs and family and normal, regular stuff. It was one of my favorite moments of the show, just having real life conversations with friends.

 

Arandoza_5th Anniversary_ToroTonight I pulled out the Arandoza 5th Anniversary for my evening walk. As it was hot and humid, I left Macha at home in the air conditioning, sometimes it’s too hot for doggies. The cigar started out with a blast of strength and spice, a great sign as far as I’m concerned. After about an inch or so the cigar either settled down, or my palate adjusted and the cigar became a smooth and delicious smoke, with good savory flavors. I really enjoyed the cigar and look forward to finding some in stores. IPCPR samples are fine, but they’ve often been through a lot of environmental changes.  It seems like most cigars I’ve smoked from La Zona have been quite good. It was nice that several of the brands made at that factory were clustered together in one area. Good stuff.

 

The cigar industry lost a giant this past weekend, Carlos Fuente passed away. I never got the opportunity to meet him, but his legacy is left, not only in one of the great cigar companies and cigars, but in the humanitarian work he did in the Dominican Republic, building schools and giving the children of his factory workers a chance to improve their place in the world.  My sincere condolences to the family. I smoked a delicious Magnum R on Sunday (I had no Don Carlos on hand).

 

That’s all for now, until the next time,

CigarCraig

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Matilde Oscura, La Gloria Cubana Serie R Black and Esteli Maduro Cigars

Before I dig into some of the IPCPR samples I smoked this week, I have a few more thoughts on the show I wanted to get out of my system. I made some notes for Thursday evening when I was on the Cigar Federation’s Cigar Chat IPCPR Recap show (go give it a listen, it was a good panel of cigar media folks), but, as usual, I didn’t pay attention to them much. I did get some numbers on the show attendance. I had read various opinions on the attendance this year, one retailer claiming there weren’t more than 300 retailers there, other’s talking about how empty the floor was. I have numbers from the IPCPR, which were 2314 attendees representing 877 stores, up 17.7% over last year in New Orleans, and up 6% over 2014 in Vegas. There were 324 exhibitors (no number on badges issued, but my guess would be in excess of 1500) in 178,100 square feet of space. They had a contest on the last day of the show as an incentive to attend where they gave away $10,000, and there were 561 entries, so there were more than 300 retailers at the show. I have to assume that the people who were there were in booths buying instead of milling around the aisles. The other thing I noticed that I thought was interesting was that the samples, where they were largely robustos in years past, were a wide variety of sizes, mostly larger vitolas. I don’t know what to make of that, except that perhaps this year was a focus more on getting cigars ready than producing show samples. I don’t have a problem with larger cigars, so I am not unhappy. Enough of that, lets move on to some cigars.

 

Matilde_Oscura_GrandeFriday I wrapped the week up with a cigar I had been looking forward to trying since last year when it came out and never got around to acquiring. I got to meet up with Enrique Seijas in the Quesada booth where the Matilde line was being displayed. They seems to be distributed by Quesada, but the cigars are made at Tabacalera Palma (Boutique Blends, Senorial, etc.). I had met Enrique way back in 2011 when he worked for Altadis, and hadn’t managed to see him since. His father, Jose Seijas, was also there and I managed to meet him and speak with him briefly. I smoked the Matilde Renacer a couple years ago and wasn’t awfully impressed, I had a bad construction issue with one, and the second one was just OK, but the San Andrés wrapped Matilde Oscura had my interest. The sample Enrique gave me was a 6″ x 60 “Grande”, which had a beautiful dark, oily wrapper. I am in love with this cigar, and easily see why it was so highly acclaimed last year. The burn was perfect, with a solid white ash, and the flavor was right where I needed it to be. Rich, decadent and mouthwatering with the chocolate and coffee flavors I love, along with a little spice. This was the best cigar I’ve smoked in a while. Yum.

 

LaGloriaCubana_SerieRBlackMaduro_64You all know by now that I have a maduro weakness, so when I heard that La Gloria Cubana was adding maduros to the Serie R Black and Esteli lines, I was quite pleased. I already love the Serie R Esteli, although I found the Serie R Black (the Black is for the catalogs, the Esteli is Brick and Mortar only), to be a blander version to my palate. I grabbed the Serie R Black Maduro in the No. 64 (6¼” x 64) size for an afternoon smoke, expecting it to be not quite as good as the Esteli. I was wrong. This is another cigar that is in my wheelhouse as far as the flavor. It was loaded with rich, dark flavors that I loved. Two hours later I didn’t want to put it down, quite impressive and not priced badly. These are out there now, and I’ve seen this cigar for sale for $82.99 for a box of 18 (at one of my advertisers, who also has 6% Ebates!), so they are very reasonable. Not a damn thing wrong with this cigar!

 

La-Gloria_Serie-R_Esteli_Maduro_cigar

Photo from General Cigar Co., mine wasn’t as good…

Of course, I had to compare the Serie R Black Maduro to the Esteli Maduro, so I smoked the Esteli after dinner. I smoked on of these in Vegas, and it was good, but it was Vegas, it was a sample fresh off the show floor, and I was talking to people, so it wasn’t a good time to form an opinion. This cigar, the  No. 54, a 6 x 54 toro, is a Nicaraguan blend with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, the same basic make-up as the Black. There is something different in there though, there’s a subtle exotic spice that is very entertaining, and not present in the more straight forward Black. This one would have benefited from some more humidor time, as the first third just wasn’t quite right in terms of moisture content, but it worked itself out and turned into a really good smoke. This is another La Gloria Cubana that is quite welcome in my LGC humidor (and, yes, I do have one humidor that is just La Gloria and Foundry products, I like them that much, and I’m that big a geek). The Serie R Esteli with the Jalapa wrapper has the edge over the Black (also a high priming Nicaraguan wrapper), but with the Maduros I think it’s a tie and there’s room in the humidor for both.

 

In other news, thank you to my publicist and beautiful wife who decided to issue a press release this week pointing out the fact that Google searches for “Cigar Blog”, “Cigar Blogger” and similar list CigarCraig.com as the number one result, which is something I’m kinda proud of! The press release can be found here. I’ve noticed that I’ve been high on the results for a while, and wondered how this might be, but I guess consistently posting original content has its reward. Thank you all for reading along for the last seven years. Unfortunately, one of the things I do ever year to thank my readers may have ended last year, as I think the FDA might prevent me from having the 12 Spectacular Days of Cigar Giveaways, unless I can come up with some workaround. Like I always say, I could do it without the manufactures sponsoring it, but it would be very expensive!

 

That’s all for today, until the next time,

 

CigarCraig

 

 

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