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!

EGO…Good or Bad? Find out here

What is an Ego? By definition it’s a person’s sense of self esteem or self-importance. We all know someone that has strong ego and it’s pretty much seen in a negative light by others around them. Not often does the word carry a positive connotation. Sometimes we could all use an ego boost or have someone stroke our ego. When it happens, you feel great, you feel a lift in your spirit, and overall demeanor.

When I saw the EGO cigar from Felix Assouline, I thought man that is ballsy. It takes a strong belief in a product to associate it with something often seen in a negative light and seen as cocky or arrogant. Sometimes you are just very confident and it comes across in the wrong way. I decided to keep an open mind when I purchased this stick. I was intrigued by the name and I wanted to see what it was all about. It was either going to silence the critics in my head or prove them right. Don’t judge me, you have those same voices in your head. If you say you don’t, one of you is a liar! 🙂

I decided to save the EGO Spirit for last. No real reason for it, it sorta just played out that way. This is the last of the bunch that I purchased and obviously this will be the last review of the brand until I get the Ringo and Something Special in my possession. I will say that everything I tried was absolutely top notch and FAC is doing it right!

So without further ado, let’s spark this EGO and see what we get…

The Spirit is a 6 1/2 X 54 (Belicoso) box pressed Nicaraguan cigar with a Habano Criollo 98 wrapper, Indonesian binder, and filler from Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in 7 sizes and priced between $1.96 (Shot) and $10.30 (Passion).

The cigar is simply an elegant looking cigar. The box press is very nice, the color is a rustic, reddish brown with some nice veins. There was a minor defect in the wrapper (you may see in the photos) that was visible but had 0 impact on this cigar or the performance. The band is really nice. The red and gold really stand out and it has an Indian feel to the artwork. With the Indonesian binder, it fits for sure.

From the foot I pick up heavy barnyard notes, with a mix hay, cedar and cocoa (almost a dark chocolate). I use a straight guillotine cut and only matches to get this one started. (It was so cold out that the butane in my lighter would not ignite)

Immediately I am flooded with a woodsy, cedar like flavor, spice and cocoa. The Jamastran and Jalapa come through nicely. If you are familiar with Felix Assouline, these tobaccos are noticeable standouts throughout the portfolio. The process he uses to age these tobaccos are something I have only tasted in his lineup. No other cigar that I am aware of taste anything like this. I am a big fan of the flavor profile it gives to his cigars. That being said, they are on display nicely in this blend. It almost has a cedar, pine or evergreen flavor and I cannot pinpoint it but its distinct and it is good! The draw is perfect and the burn is straight and even (until I cranked up the heater in the garage and the swirling hot and cold air mixture created a small issue as you see in the pic). The ash hangs on through the first third and falls off with a little encouragement.

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As I transaction into the second third, the pepper and spice are on display but not harsh at all. The dark chocolate profile ramps up a bit and this settles into a nice medium strength with a medium-full flavor profile. The cigar is performing nicely and even under extreme cold and swirling winds from a propane heater blowing hot air all around the garage, I only have some minor shifts in the burn line. The flavor profile is complex enough to make it very interesting. I am about 45 minutes in at this point and so far, another great cigar. I am starting to think that Felix might just know a thing or two about making great cigars. 🙂

When I review a cigar for the first time I typically only “pair” it with water because I like to get a feel for the cigar and only the cigar. As I transitioned into the final third, I decided to take a chance (and because it was freezing outside) to break out some Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon and see how things changed.

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The cigar changed back to more of the pepper and spice with some earthy tones and a creamy smoothness but with more of a cinnamon or nutmeg spice addition. When I added some bourbon into the mix things got very interesting. The pepper notes flooded my taste buds and it really amped up the spice in the bourbon. Things got hot but I wasn’t complaining. I am a fan of hot and spicy things but not to the point of pain like people that love having tears in their eyes from peppers. Being from Louisiana, cayenne pepper and flavor are a part of what we do with everything.

The more I got into the final third, things calmed down and the sweetness took the forefront and really leveled out the heat from the bourbon. The draw stayed perfect throughout the entire smoke and the burn (had it not been for the swirling air being forced around by the heater) stayed relatively even. Take away the heater and the burn stays even throughout. The ash held for each third and I needed no touchups at all.

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Overall, this was a very good cigar and worthy of its name. This is a cigar I would smoke on a regular and a great addition to any rotation. It was roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes total and I enjoyed my time with it. I am curious to try the other sizes as I have heard others say they got more of the sweetness from one of the others making it almost a dessert cigar. I did not find that in this one but I could easily see it as there are certainly notes of it to be found.

After 5 wonderful cigars from Felix Assouline Cigars, I can say without a doubt that I am sold on the brands. I have 2 others left to try and I want to try these same 5 in different sizes for sure. For me, FAC belongs in the top 3 of my all time favorite cigar brands. I encourage all of you to follow them on social media and visit the website. Make sure you let them know you heard about them on the blog and feel free to come back here and leave your comments, photos and reviews. I would love to hear what you think about all of the cigars I review. I hope you enjoyed it.

Don’t be afraid to put your EGO on display and share it with the world! Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace!

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How do you define a truly great cigar?

There are A LOT of cigars out there. There are A LOT of really good cigars, A LOT of decent cigars and A LOT of mediocre cigars out there. I think that without a doubt the majority of us will agree on that point if nothing else. When I started with cigars I tried everything that I could get my hands on basically, and I fell for the big brand advertising online and in the magazines telling me just how great this new cigar was going to be and I went out in search of it and paid too much money only to get it home, light it up and go “Eh, not really all that great”. Then I thought, well, the people advertising and promoting these have been smoking WAYYYYY longer than I have, maybe it’s not the cigar at all, maybe my palate just isn’t up to par. And the vicious circle continued for awhile. Then I tried my first boutique cigar and it hit me, this is what I have been searching for. I started researching these hidden gems and learning about the companies, the brands, and the people behind them. It became a passion for me, and it still is today. Along with this new research came the wave of all new cigars to try, so many so that I had to purchase a new beautiful humidor to house them and segregate them from the “big box brands” everyone raves about. In a way, I have become a cigar snob. I really thought I was building a nice collection of great smokes with the humidor of big name brands I have. (They are available for purchase at a great price if anyone would be interested, just throwing that out there)

I have a very hard time putting money down on big brands anymore because the market is saturated with mediocre cigars and the majority come from a handful of big name factories. I am not saying that there aren’t so truly wonderful, consistently great sticks on the market. I have a select few names that if I need to, I will pick up and have no worries with what I am smoking. In the rare occasion that I am traveling without my own or I end up in a place I haven’t been before, I always spend money locally and will make a purchase in the local shop. (For anyone that is new to cigars, this is not a written rule, but it is a courtesy to always make a purchase of some sort when visiting a new lounge or shop if you plan to smoke there) If they carry boutiques, I am going for them, but if not, I can always find something that will get me through. It’s just courtesy. If they have a house blend, sure why not. I did that at Primings in Nashville and it was a fantastic stick. (Free plug for them, lol)

One thing I have found through all of this, is that boutiques have made me super picky about what I like and what I will spend money on. As of now I have only a handful of brands that I will purchase on a regular basis. Well that limits you from trying a lot of great cigars. No, it means I know the difference between mediocre bullshit and quality. Nothing is stopping me from trying anything except the choice I make to put my money down or not. I do not ask cigar companies to send me samples to review, I do not review the next trendy cigars, I have not been to IPCPR (although I would love to go for different reasons), but if someone sends me a cigar and ask me to review it for them I certainly won’t tell them no. I also won’t sell myself out and give it a high review if I didn’t enjoy it simply because there is some obligation to the manufacture who sent it. Unfortunately there is too much of that already and it’s the reason I had many cigars I didn’t care much about.

So, all of this leads me. As I said in previous reviews about Felix Assouline, I was told about this company from a BOTL awhile back and just never really got around to ordering online. They are not available in my local go to shops so it just fell off the radar. One day I saw a very cool post of the II Saints cigar and I made the decision to place the order. Just so happens that the online store was down. Bummer. No, not really. The man himself, Felix reached out to me via Messenger and we went back and forth for a bit and he took my order personally and took care of me. It was a blessing in disguise because how often, in this day and age of digital, online ordering, do we actually get to interact with the owner of a company? On Monday I received a message with my tracking info, an apology for the store being down and a thank you for doing business with FAC. WOW! Again, not often we get that these days, but the thing that really blew me away was that Felix told me he was sending me something special for my troubles. Great I thought. It really wasn’t much trouble but I certainly appreciate it regardless. Little did I know that I would be receiving something TRULY special.

My order came in and I opened the box and as ordered were all of the cigars with one exception. There was one extra that I didn’t recognize from the website. After some messages with Felix, I found out that this gem was from his personal stock of a 17 year old cigar that he had made for himself and select friends and customers. Well I must say, I was truly honored. I thanked him and told him I would save that for a very special occasion. His response was, I would appreciate it if you would review it for me! Needless to say I am honored and told him I would. I was a little skeptical about it because in my mind I am still very green to this and still working on developing my palate. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this cigar. Felix never gave me much input about it as to try and sway me in any direction. All I knew after smoking 3 of the other brands he made, all of which were fantastic, this was 17 years old and from his private stock, so I anticipated a truly great cigar.

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The CSB Vintage Habano 98′. First things first. It’s right at 18 years old. I have a son that was born in 98′ so this thing is ancient for a cigar right? As you can see from the pic, the cellophane has turned orange but when you remove this cigar, it is just as fresh and smells like it was just taken off the rolling table. This particular cigar (as with all of FAC cigars) are made with tobaccos grown by them on the farms in the Jamastran Valley in Honduras and in Jalapa Nicaragua. This is a full bodied, full flavor cigar.

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Wrapper: Jalapa Habano Crillo 98′ Binder and Filler: Jamastran Honduras. Since I had tried 3 other cigars from Felix with Jamastran tobacco in them, the notes from the foot were not as foreign to me as it was the first time I smelled it. This tobacco is unlike anything I have tried in any other brand. There is a scent and a flavor profile to it that is so hard to pinpoint but to me, it reminds me of almost a pine or evergreen. I may be completely off base with that description but that is the closest thing I can come up with. I pick up notes of barnyard, earth, leather and a sweetness like dark chocolate or cocoa. The cigar, as stated, for being almost 18 years old, looked great. Rustic, dark brown wrapper with small veins. The band was a simple golden orange color with CSB lettering. Nothing fancy or flashy. That was left to the cigar.

I decided to change it up and used my Xikar hole punch to get things going. I started with a wooden match to heat the foot and followed up with a dual flame just to finish it off. Initial draw of this cigar was simply one of the most unique flavor profiles I have had in a cigar. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what I was tasting as I was not expecting that I had. After a few puffs, I was able to wrap my head around that Jamastran flavor profile which is very woodsy, almost evergreen-ish, with some pepper like spice, earth and a sweetness at the end that blended amazingly with the profile. The pepper stuck with me for a bit but was never harsh. This was the TRULY GREAT cigar I knew was out there and I thought I had found it a couple of times, but this cigar raised the bar for me. Thick, greyish, white, smoke poured off of this cigar and the ash, as you can see held for the entire first third of the cigar. It only fell because I made it.

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The second third brought me more of the same wonderful flavors I had been experiencing. The pepper dropped off and I was met with more of the chocolate/cocoa or espresso flavor, but they were not so noticeable that it made the cigar sweet. It remained a full flavored, full bodied cigar, but the subtle hints of sweetness really smoothed the second third out. Again, the ash held throughout, the draw was simply perfect, the burn lines were sharp and only got a little off when I stepped outdoors for a minute. (Keep in mind that it is in the 30’s and I am in a heated garage).

The final third brought all of the flavors together for me. Earth, leather, pepper, sweetness, and of course that wonderful woodsy flavor. The profile of this cigar never got fully away from where it started but changed enough to keep you very interested in where it was headed. As you can see, I nubbed this cigar for all the right reasons. Even going that far down with it, I never hit any nicotine bitterness nor did it burn super hot. These are 2 factors that really speak to the quality of the tobacco and the construction of the cigar. I did not pair this cigar with anything except water so I got the full profile of only the cigar. Wise decision but I can easily see this blending with a great Scotch or Bourbon. This cigar would make spoiled milk shine, ok maybe that’s pushing it a little…If you get the chance to score one of these (see below) be sure to let me know what you think.

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What else can I say about this work of art? Felix Assouline has some terrific cigars in his portfolio and I was completely sold on all 3 of the cigars I had tried prior to this. After going back and forth with him about a number of different things, I will say this, he truly outdid himself with this cigar and I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity to try it. I am truly honored that he asked me to review it and I hope I did it justice. If you follow him on Facebook and join the family, tell him you read this review. I am sure that he will take care of you and you may just get lucky and score one yourself. (Facebook Felix Assouline Family) Let him know I sent you.

I apologize for the long post but something like this doesn’t come along often.

At the end of the day, everyone enjoys a great cigar and we all have our favorite sticks. The great thing is that we don’t all like the same exact thing and even better, we don’t have to. I encourage everyone to try all the new cigars you want and venture out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised at what is out there but be careful, once you find it, it may ruin many others that you thought were great. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.

 

CSB Habano Oscuro by Felix Assouline

As I sit down with a nice Woodford Reserve Double Aged bourbon neat and some Johnny Cash playing I decided to write the review for the second Felix Assouline cigar I received on Thursday. I can tell you without a doubt or incentive to say so, these truly are world class cigars and if these are not on your list of go-to cigars, you really owe it to yourself to visit the website and pick out a few. The price point for these cigars are far below other cigars that claim to be what these cigars actually deliver. Here is a quick link to the store. http://felixassouline.com/store/

Wait, you are still here? Get back on that link and place your order, you can read this review anytime. Go, NOW! You can leave me a message and thank me later.

So I sat down and enjoyed this beautiful CSB Habano Oscuro work of art yesterday. As you can see from the pics, this a beautiful cigar. (Photo editing may have changed the color some depending on what you are viewing it on)

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This cigar is Nicaraguan that is Medium to Full bodied with a Ecuador Connecticut / Jalapa Habano Criollo 98 wrapper, with Jamastran Binder and Filler. The wrapper is rustic brown color with nice veins and tight seams. There are no soft spots anywhere on this cigar. The band art is gold with black. Simple yet classy.

As I removed the cellophane wrapper I get notes of barnyard hay, earth, and a touch of wood (kind of sawdust like).

I opted for a straight guillotine cut and matches to light it. I touched it up with my Xikar dual torch to get it going. (One thing to keep in mind during this review, the weather was wet, damp and cold so I was forced into my garage where a propane heater elevated the temp to a nice, dry, 70 degrees Fahrenheit). This fact will come into play later in the review.

As I took my first draw on the CSB I picked up the very familiar Jamastran that was in the II Saints the day before but it was very different in this blend. I will say that I was caught off guard at just how flavorful this cigar is. A wonderful blend of wood, earth, and some notable pepper hit my palate. The combination of the exceptionally aged wrapper mixed with the Jamastran filler is something to experience. As with the II Saints, I am sure more experienced palates would be able to pick up specific flavor profiles but for me, all I will say is that it was a damn good blend. Complex and full flavored, but smooth with a creamy finish. As I made my way through the first third I started to have some burn issues. I attribute this to the environment I was in. I stepped outside for a bit and the cigar performed very differently. As the cold and damp started to set in again, I went back inside the garage and it changed again. I had to touch it up to get it going again and we were right back on track.

As I went into the second third, the blend remained consistent with added notes of cocoa and a faint hint of spice like a cinnamon or nutmeg. This addition smoothed it out even more than before which was a nice change on the palate. A bit more of a burn issue so I went outside again and the cigar started to even itself out. It is not liking the warm, dry air in the garage. I have to agree with it as I would much rather be outdoors myself. As photo proof to the construction and quality of this cigar, even with burn issues and 2 touch ups, the shot below shows how the cigar came around and straightened itself out.

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As I went into the final third, back inside to defrost a bit and enjoy the last of this great smoke. The flavor profile that is started with makes a strong return and the pepper notes really picked up. The first 2 thirds gave me a medium strength smoke but it turns more towards a full bodied smoke at the last third. The flavor and strength ramp up some but surprisingly it stays very smooth and has no harsh notes anywhere throughout this cigar. The cocoa and spice take a backseat to the woodsy, earthy and peppery notes but the complexity of this cigar really shine at the end.

Again, as someone that is still developing my palate, this cigar was complex and flavorful to me and kept me interested from start to finish. Some of you may pick up a lot more notes that I was able to identify but smoking this cigar was great for me. Because I have never smoked this cigar prior, I chose to pair it with only water to enjoy the flavors. I could easily see this being a fantastic pairing with my beloved bourbon or a great scotch (where I am even more of newbie).

So there it is. The CSB Habano Oscuro by Felix Assouline. This is a terrific cigar that is priced well enough to be an everyday smoke (Between $6 and $8 on the website!) I have smoked cigars in the $12 to $15 range that weren’t in the same stadium as this cigar. Box worthy for sure and one you will want to have in rotation. This is my second FAC cigar and they are 2 for 2 for me. Very impressed with both I have tried.

Here is the link again if you waited. http://felixassouline.com/store/ Be sure to tell him you heard about them from the blog.

I hope you enjoyed the review. As always, comments, thoughts, questions and your own reviews are always welcome here. Up next…The Havana Sunrise by Felix Assouline. Until then, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace!