Morphine 2017…Black Label Trading Company

Thanks to Matt O’Hop at Cigars on State in Clark Summit, Pa for hooking me up with the newly released Morphine. I was able to get all 3 vitolas and plan to review each of them. Check out http://cigarsonstate.com/wp/ for all your cigar needs and great info. Matt does a nice job on his blog keeping you up to date with things going on in the industry.

For those of you that follow me on social media, you have seen my post of Black Label Trading Company and Black Works Studio cigars. It is no secret that I am a big fan of both brands and the cigars they produce. I also had the pleasure of sitting down with James Brown when he visited Pa last year. James is a great guy and he and his wife Angela live in Nicaragua  full time where they run Fabrica de Oveja Negra in Esteli that they opened in 2015. The following is from the BLTC website and talks a little bit about the factory.

Oveja-Logo

“As the name suggests, Oveja Negra (Black Sheep), will do things differently.

“Starting our own factory was a natural progression of the brand. We needed the freedom to be as creative as possible and to have ownership of every process that goes into making our cigars. We have always been involved in every aspect of our production but now we can take it to the next level and ensure 100% quality from seed to ash,” stated James Brown, creator of BLTC.

Oveja Negra offers its clients a factory where small batch production is the norm, and quality is the priority. At Oveja Negra smaller brands and retailers wanting private labels can make a cigar without huge minimum orders.

“This is a tough industry for small companies. Its hard to get the attention you need to create a premium product. Our goal is to help support other boutique brands and grow the premium-cigar market,” stated James Brown.

Black Label Trading Company is re-defining the standards for cigar making. With a less is more philosophy Black Label Trading Co. creates hand crafted premium cigars of the utmost quality in small batch, limited quantities.”

Oveja Negra is also responsible for producing cigars for the Nomad brand and is currently working on a project with Veritas Cigar Co. I can tell you that everything I have had so far from that factory is solid and consistent. It feels like every release that comes out is better and better. If you haven’t had any of their cigars, I highly recommend them. Be sure to follow them on social media and check out some of the amazing works of art they are creating.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s review a cigar shall we? Up first from the bunch is the latest release of Morphine. This is the fourth release of this cigar and I am anxious to try it. It was one of my favorite cigars of last year and I enjoyed all but 1 because I wanted to make sure I had one until I got the 17’s in. Well, mission accomplished and now I can go back and see what some aging did to it and compare. Win, win.

Morphine 2017 Corona 5 1/2 x 42 (18 count box)

MORPH

(Also available this year in Lancero 7 1/4 x 42 12 box count and Short Robusto 4 1/2 x 50 20 box count) 400 boxes of each will be available for 20,000 cigars total.

20170619_125545-01[1]

Blend Profile:

Wrapper: Mexican San Andres Maduro

Binder: Nicaraguan habano

Filler: Nicaraguan

Origin: Esteli, Nicaragua

Appearance / Construction: Keeping true to form, this years version is dark, rugged and rustic. The dark brown maduro wrapper presents a few bumps and veins with tight seams. The cigar feels solid with no soft spots. The foot is open and the cap is rounded with a small “nub” on the end. There are 2 black and white bands that blend nicely with the wrapper. One is the logo artwork band and the second has the name on it.

20170619_125551-01[1] 20170619_125557-01[1]

Pre-light: I decided to keep this one in the cellophane until I was almost ready to smoke it. Once I remove it I am hit with heavy barnyard notes, manure, and hay. I let it sit out for a minute or so and breathe a bit. Once I go back to it, I pick up pepper, chocolate sweetness, much less barnyard, hay and earth. On the foot I get more of the same with a grassy undertone. Using a straight cut I remove the cap and the cold draw is open with a slight resistance. I get a nice pepper, wood and hay profile from the cold draw. Time to get this one toasted.

1st Third: Right away the old familiar sting of red pepper/spice hits the throat and nose. Ah….I take a few seconds to enjoy it. Once things calm down a bit I pick up a nice woodsy cedar profile. There is a subtle undertone that reminds me of the smell of damp, freshly cut grass. Crazy I know but that is the only way I can describe it. As I work through the first half inch or so, there is a lot going on here and it’s all really good. There is a little hint of sweetness here and there and the pepper still finds it way in at times. So far this blend is really enjoyable to me. The draw is good. Open with a little resistance but nothing too tight. The burn is good. A little wavy but nothing unmanageable. And here comes the rain! Damn, time to move into the garage. I was trying to beat it and I lost!

20170619_132124-01[1]

2nd Third: As I move into the halfway point, more of the same great notes. This is a very consistent blend. Nothing that shifts and changes in crazy ways but complex enough to keep things interesting. Still very woodsy, earthy, spicy (though not as much as the start), and very smooth. This is a full bodied smoke. The strength is certainly in the full range. One thing about most BLTC is they often pack a punch. Thus the name Morphine! Takes all the pain away! I am getting nice smoke from this stick and so far I am really feeling this year’s release.

20170619_134634-01[1]

Final Third: Again, no major shifts here. Consistent and delicious. As I watch the rain pour down, I am thinking back to last years release and for as good as that one was, I think this years blend has turned things up a notch. No real changes in the profile as I work my way down to the nub. More of the same cedar wood, grassy, pepper, earthy notes that started all blended together in a perfect presentation on the palate. The sweetness still makes an appearance here and there and the much more subtle pepper still lingers but not as forceful as before. I end this one 1 hour 15 minutes in.

20170619_141217_001-01[1]

Final Thoughts: I really wished the rain had held out and I could have sat on the deck and really taken my time with this one. I didn’t rush it but being forced into the garage due to a downpour makes for a less enjoyable experience. That said, this cigar was really, really good. I have found that I am a fan of the San Andres Maduro and it is featured in a lot of cigars that I really enjoy. This one was no different. There is a sweetness to it and blended with the heavy wood and pepper notes, this makes for a great smoke. As I stated in the review, I think this years release turned out better than its predecessor from last year. I do not recommend this cigar for beginner smokers. If you tend to like more mild or medium cigars, ease into this. This is a full bodied, full flavored smoke with a punch. Another great release from BLTC.

20170619_141550-01[1]

Scoring:

 Appearance / Construction: Rugged, rustic San Andres Maduro wrapper with the standard Black and White BLTC bands work for the look of this cigar. The construction is solid, no major flaws. For what this cigar is meant to be I score it 18/20.

Performance (Smoking Characteristics): The draw was open with a touch of resistance that kept things cool all the way down to the nub. The burn got a little wavy at times but no real issues. No touch ups required. I did have to relight it once, only because it went out as I scrambled to get moved into the garage during a heavy rain. Other than a wavy burn line I had no issues. I score this a 23/25.

Flavor: Complex, consistent and good. A well balanced blend of cedar wood, spice, earth and sweetness. I really enjoyed the profile of this cigar and appreciate that is wasn’t all over the place in terms of changes or transitions. Complex enough to hold your interest and not a one dimensional cigar. I score this a 25/25.

Overall Experience: I really liked this cigar. The corona size is that great in between size that you can pull off in an hour. I am anxious to try the lancero and the robusto but I enjoyed my time with this cigar. No real performance issues, great flavor, consistency. What more do you need? I scored this a 28/30.

Final Rating: 94

96 – 94: Excellent cigar. I would add this to my collection of must haves.

So there you have it. My review of the BLTC 2017 Morphine. I hope that you enjoyed it. I welcome your thoughts, comments and reviews. Feel free to share it and make sure to follow me on social media. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.

 

 

Deliverance…no, not the movie. Get the banjos out of your head.

Ever since they were released, I have been on the hunt to locate and pick up some of the Black Label Trading Company Deliverance Nocturne. My local shop didn’t get any and others sold out so I was thrilled to see these at Ford on Fifth in AZ this week.

bltc-podcast

Deliverance – The action of being set free. As with all of the BLTC cigar names, they are always very fitting to the feel of the cigar. This one is no different. James and Angela Brown have been cranking out some of the best blends to hit the market over the past few years but seem to really have hit their stride over the past year or so. So many great releases coming from the BLTC Label and also the Blk_Wks Studio (Black Works Studio) brand. I am constantly impressed with the quality and consistency of their products. Having met James last year, he told me big things were in the works and this certainly held true. If you aren’t familiar with the brand, I encourage you to take a look. You wont find the same type of feel from a traditional cigar company. The image is dark, grunge, fresh, new and edgy. Personally that is what drove me to them, then I smoked some of their cigars and I was sold. Check out the website http://blacklabeltrading.com/blog/ Stop by their merchandise store as well because they have some of the coolest gear and accessories in the industry. The zippo lighter and cutter are on my list of wants for sure!

With that being said, let’s jump into this long awaited cigar and see what we get.

Blend Profile:

Wrapper: Pennsylvania Broadleaf

Binder: Nicaraguan Habano

Filler: Nicaraguan and Pennsylvania

Origin: Fabrica Oveja Negra (Nicaragua)

Size: 4 3/4 x 40 x 56 Short Salomon

Appearance: Very unique baseball bat shape. Dark brown with nice veins and very tight seams. It is oily with a nice sheen. The band is always one of the strong points of any BLTC cigar. The very cool praying skeleton with the ornate design black and white design just screams of grunge and goth. There are great stories behind the name and I am sure this one is no different. I am sure the design holds meaning to the name as well. I have my own opinion of it but I don’t want to speculate. The foot is flat and a really prominent round cap.20170409_104424-01[1]

Pre-light: The cigar feels nice in the hand. Even with its unique shape, it doesn’t feel awkward to hold. The cigar is firm with no soft spots that I feel. I pick up a few faint notes from the body and foot but not much is revealed.

20170409_104350-01[1]                       20170409_104403-01[1]

Cold Draw: I used a straight cut and the draw offers some resistance. I pick up a few notes of pepper and tobacco with a hint of bitter cocoa. 20170409_104338-01[1]

1st Third: I got things going with my dual torch lighter and I pick up pepper, sweet cocoa and cedar wood. The draw offers resistance but not super hard to pull through. It is a unique blend that is rather hard to identify. At least for me. As I move more into it, pepper is definitely there but the wood mixes with a sweetness that I cannot pinpoint. The burn is a little jagged and the ash is holding on tight. Interesting blend that is starting out medium bodied. I am sure that will change soon.

20170409_131120-01[1]

 

2nd Third: More cedar and a earthy, grassy notes take shape. It is not hay but certainly more of a grassy flavor. I am still getting pepper notes and it is trending more towards a full strength smoke. The draw is still a little tight but given its size and shape, too full of a draw and it would likely burn hot and too fast. The blend has not changed much and it is still pretty complex to sort the specific notes I am getting.

20170409_141200-01[1].jpg

Final Third: I find the burn slowing a bit and touch it up a little. The draw has continued to offer some resistance and I am not getting much smoke from the pull. I am getting more cedar, the grassy notes are almost that of clove or mild mint leaf maybe. There is an earthiness towards the later part of the cigar that takes the forefront. The strength has certainly stepped up like I expected it would. Don’t go too fast with this one.

20170409_143348-01[1].jpg

Final Thoughts: As a big fan of BLTC I had very high expectations for this cigar. The problem with so many great cigars that just continue to come out of Fabrica Oveja Negra is that the bar just keeps getting set higher and higher. For me, this was not my favorite cigar from Black Label. I would not go as far as to say it wasn’t good or enjoyable, it just wasn’t my favorite blend.

That being said, it is still a really good smoke and I encourage you to pick one up and give it a try. Especially if you are not familiar with the brand, you may find this is one of the best smokes you have ever had. That is exactly what happened to me when I tried my first BLTC cigar and then they just kept getting better and better. James and Angela do not make a bad cigar. They just don’t.

The Deliverance Nocturne is complex with a number of different things going on. I wouldn’t advise beginners to jump feet first into this cigar but certainly take your time and give it a couple of hours. It doesn’t look like it would take that long to smoke but it does, and it packs a punch. More advanced smokers would enjoy this cigar as well. No crazy transitions or weird changes. I found the draw to be a little bit tight for my personal liking but nothing I had to really struggle with. The burn was a little jagged but did settle in and burned evenly. I needed one small touch up which was partially my fault. As the cigar tapers down in size it required a little bit more attention than I gave it. After that it was fine.

I would like to compare the Salomon Snub Nose (6 1/4 x 36 x 56) and the Perfecto to really get a better feel for the blend and compare them equally. Would I smoke this cigar again, yes. With so many heavy hitters in the line up between BLTC and BLK_WKS, you really cannot go wrong with any of their cigars. The Deliverance Nocturne is worth checking out.

Pairings: I paired this cigar with high quality H20 since it was my first time trying it. Pair this with Spiced Rum, Whiskey, Bourbon or Scotch and you better be on your A game. This one hits back and I could see it really giving some problems if you don’t take your time with it. I think it would be a great cigar with a nice red wine as well. That is something I have started doing recently and I must say that I didn’t think of the combo as something I would like, but I do and it works out nicely.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Feel free to leave your thoughts, comments and reviews here. I would love to hear what other people thought about this cigar.

Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.

“The purpose of this review is to provide a true, honest opinion based on my own experience. I am under no obligation to provide favorable feedback for this product and receive no compensation for doing so. This cigar was purchased by me, for my own enjoyment.”

 

 

2016 Top Cigar List. And the problem with them.

Its that time again. Yep, now is the time for everyone to publish their top however many cigars of the year. I read through them, and without a doubt there are some really great cigars that make those list. My biggest problem with them however, is that virtually no one includes boutiques on this list! Seriously? How can anyone simply leave these terrific cigars out of the competition? Money. Plain and simple. I am not going to call out publications or other platforms by name because that isn’t my style, and as a consumer, and an Ambassador for CRA I have to be very politically correct because I could potentially have interactions with some of them.

I know that to be included for consideration or even featured in some publications, manufactures are faced with hefty fees, some I have heard are around the $25,000 mark. If anyone wants to send me a check for 10% of that, well, we can talk about making you #1 on my list as well. Money talks right? Wrong. I do not accept money, but I will gladly accept cigars to review and give my unbiased opinion on. Don’t judge me.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the top 25 that I have seen truly have some great sticks that are deserving of those kind of accolades, but to leave out boutiques is really unfair to not only the manufacturer, but even more so to the very people that read these list. As a consumer you should really find blogs and sites that offer a wider look into cigars. Some people could very well say that I am doing the exact same thing because I typically only feature boutiques on my blog. I wouldn’t say that you are wrong. I would simply say that this is a choice I have made to give smaller companies that cannot fund huge marketing campaigns and feature pages in the big publications a platform. The reason behind this is simple. If you want to read about big cigar brands, a simple web search will provide you with countless reviews and articles about almost any big brand you want. But if you want to read an unbiased look into lesser known cigars, brands and the people behind them, well you have to come to a place like this.

The other thing that I find amusing, but also annoying is the sheepeople posting photo after photo of them with the Top Cigar of 2016. We have all seen it, especially over the past few days. I have never been a big fan of bandwagons because it looks really silly when you fall off of them. It’s so funny to see the numerous post of the flavor of the day and in 3 months time, you never see them smoking it again. If it was so great, why don’t you have more than that 1? I guess I just don’t fit the mold of needing to be part of the “in crowd”. It’s great for the cigar company however, so smoke on and hashtag away with #1cigar and #topof2016, and most of all enjoy your cigar.

So the dilemma is, to do a top 2016 list or not. For the purpose of the blog I feel a strong obligation to do one, but at the same time, I feel there have been so many great cigars put out by so many great brands and I have enjoyed so many, how do I even begin?

I played with the idea of including viewers Top 10 list and I would love to see what cigars top your list. For the purpose of the blog, I have decided that I will list the top brands I have enjoyed this year. I will not limit it to a particular cigar because many of the cigars I loved over the past year did not get released this year.

So here we go with mixed emotions I present my Top Boutique Brands for 2016.

#10 Balmoral: This one was tough to put into this list. I have only had the Anejo XO and it was one of the best cigars I have tried period. Hands down, this 18 year aged work of art is outstanding. Because I only had this one, I had to put it lower on my list of brands but for single cigars it is easy top 5.

#9 Ezra Zion: I have more to try from them, but the cigars I have tried are all great cigars. All my Ex’s, Tantrum PA and the FHK, were very impressive. Perfectly constructed and great blends. I see myself trying more of these soon.

#8 1502 Cigars: This is a brand I tried later in the year and I must say that I was very impressed with them. The Ruby, Black Gold, Emerald were all very good. I have a Blue Sapphire in the humidor waiting for the right time to try it. I can see these becoming a part of my regular rotation.

#7 Nomad: From Fred Rewey and the Fabrica Oveja Negra factory (Black Label Trading/Black Works Studio) The Martial Law and the C-276 are outstanding cigars.

#6 Nat Sherman: This was an under the radar brand for me. I saw a few things about them from time to time but never decided to pick any up. I went into a local shop and they had the, so I inquired and purchased. Once I smoked one, I knew I had to try others and that I did. Very good brand and everything I have tried, I have truly enjoyed. Great smokes.

#5 Leaf by Oscar: From the famous Leaf and Bean in Pittsburg, the Oscar brand was by far some of the most enjoyable sticks I tried all year. The original 4 were the Maduro, Sumatra, Corojo, and Connecticut were terrific. Most recently the Oscar Habano hit the market and it was everything the first 4 were but turned up a notch.

#4 Crowned Heads: This one was tough because I am very partial to this brand. There are so many great cigars that Jon Huber and crew have put out over the past few years, many of which I have either a box or 5 pack samplers of. I love the feel of this brand, the stories behind the names, and the cigars themselves. They have teamed with My Fathers Cigars for a few sticks recently and they are really great. I will say that I have many Crowned Heads in the humidor and they are very much a BIG part of my regular rotation.

#3 Black Label Trading Company: From James and Angela Brown and the Fabrica Oveja Negra factory, this is a brand that I am truly a fan of. I stumbled upon their website one day and fell in love with the dark, edgy vibe that came from them. I sought out numerous shops to find them and once I did, I haven’t looked back. With the recent additions to their lineup, I am more of a fan today and they have a shelf in my humidor dedicated to their cigars. Last Rites, Santa Muerte, Lawless and the highly rated (although excluded from all major list) Bishops Blend sealed the deal this year. If you told me I had to pick a top cigar from 2016 the Bishops Blend would likely take that spot.

#2 Black Works Studio: Until very recently this was my number one brand and I never thought any brand would top it this year. The cigars coming out under this label are truly outstanding and the flavors being blended are mind-numbing. The Green Hornet, NBK, Killer Bee, and Rorschach are unique, flavorful blends that I truly love. All of these cigars are some of my favorite sticks from this year.

#1 Felix Assouline Cigars: Who? Yeah, that’s what I said a few weeks ago. And then I placed an order and Felix reached out to me to let me know the online store was down and he would personally take care of my order. True customer service and what a great guy. Then I got my cigars. Beautiful, hand crafted works of art. The quality and construction of each one was top notch. Then I put flame to foot and WOW! The tobaccos he uses in his cigars rival anything on the market. He included a 17 year aged cigar from his private stock for my “troubles” with the online store and if you haven’t read the review of the CSB Vintage Habano, check it out. Hands down the best cigar I have had. I still have a few more from his portfolio to try and review but the 5 I had (CSB, 2 Saints, Ego, Havana Sunrise Reserve, and the CSB Vintage) although very different, each were on a different level. I cannot say enough about these cigars. As much as I love the other brands I listed, the bar was raised with these. I am 100% sold that everything Felix puts out is world class and I am excited about things to come from FAC. Rumor has it something could be in the works soon. Stay tuned…

So there it is. MY personal opinion about the top brands I enjoyed. Personally I would take a cigar from any on this list and compare it to the big brands in a blind test and I think people would be very surprised at the outcome. Do not sleep on these boutiques! You are missing out on some of the best cigars on the market.

Hope you enjoyed the read. Please drop your comments and your list for everyone to review. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses. Peace!