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.

20161211_162855-011

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.

20161211_165636-011

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.

20161211_172646-011

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!

20161211_155619-01120161211_160210-011

Havana Sunrise Reserve…Felix Assouline Review

So this is my third review of Felix Assouline. I typically don’t do so many reviews back to back but the opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it. The thing about FAC cigars is that each cigar is very  different from the others so getting 6 different cigars makes it interesting. I was going to review a different brand but the first 2 FAC’s I had were so good I had to keep it going. With that said, I present the Havana Sunrise Reserve Blaze. This cigar is available in 5 sizes and is priced nicely between $5 and $8.00. This price point is fantastic for a cigar of this quality.

The Havana Sunrise Reserve Blaze is a 56 x 6 Medium to Full bodied, Nicaraguan cigar with a Habano Criollo 98′ wrapper, Indonesian binder and the Nicaragua / Honduras filler. It is  a box pressed cigar that is a nice cocoa brown with small veins and tight seams.

I pick up notes of barnyard hay, wood and cocoa, almost like dark chocolate from the foot. Going with my usual straight guillotine cut and matches to start with a dual torch to finish toasting the foot we are off and running with this one.

First third: Right off the bat I am met with a perfect, easy draw that allows tons of smoke into my palate and I am hit with a flood of pepper! Wow! This has some bite to it and being from Louisiana, I absolutely love the spice. Tons of thick, white smoke come off of this cigar as I work through the first few puffs. The pepper remain but cocoa and some leather balance it out nicely. The weather was absolutely beautiful outside, sunny and about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

The transition into the second third brings the same spicy, woodsy blend with hints of leather hints and a touch of coffee or espresso possibly. As I move into the second third a bit more, there is more of a woodsy profile (oak maybe) but the blend remains complex and flavorful. Still picking up pepper but not as prominent.

As I move into the final third, the burn has been sharp, ash has been holding over 1 1/2 inches even with a slight breeze and it produces a large amount of white smoke with each puff. The draw is still perfect and easy. I still have that peppery, woodsy profile with hints of leather and earth. The changes were not dramatic and the original flavor profile stayed with this cigar throughout the 1 hour 25 minutes.

Overall, I really loved the heat and spice profile from this stick. The pepper was a nice change of pace and made this cigar stand out. I found it easy to smoke, medium to full strength with a full flavor profile. If you do not like spice or pepper, DO NOT smoke this cigar. You will not enjoy it. On the other hand, if you want something bold but not too strong with a great flavor and some heat, look no further. The Blaze stand up to its name and for me is easily a box worthy cigar that I would put into my rotation. As you can see from the pic, I didn’t want to put it down.

20161204_141005-011

Another top notch cigar by Felix Assouline. I can’t believe it took me so long to come around to them, but there is no turning back from here. This company has easily jumped into my top 5 cigar manufactures. If you have not tried them, put them on your Christmas wish list, or just treat yourself to one or two. You can thank me later.

http://felixassouline.com/store/ Just in case you want to take me up on that sampler offer http://felixassouline.com/store/Robusto-Perfecto.html

Hope you enjoyed the review. Feel free to comment, ask questions or drop your own review experience here. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses. Peace

20161204_125023-011received_10211672543757262-011

Felix Assouline Cigars…II Saints Review

 

Who is Felix Assouline you ask?

Felix Assouline (Taken from their website)

Felix first started out in the cigar business in 1997 on the retail side. His first store in Dania Beach, Florida sold all the premium brands and launched him into 3 additional stores in South Florida over a 6 year span. During that time he also ran a successful wholesale cigar business. Felix’s passion for a great smoking cigar drove him to try every cigar he possible could and as he did, he developed an intricate knowledge of cigar construction and how different leaves affected the flavor of the cigar.

With that insight, Felix opened his own factory in Danli, Honduras in 2004 and began making his own cigars. Felix introduced 2 successful brands, one of which being the original EGO, which received a 90 rating in Smoke Magazine in the September 2006 issue.

In 2007, Felix decided to sell everything and focus all his attention on his greatest love, his family. After enjoying incredible family moments for 6 years, he decided it was time to get back into the cigar business. This time, Felix wanted to focus all his efforts on fulfilling a dream of creating his own blends to achieve one goal: create the best premium cigars on the market…

The story is much more involved and I hope to do a spotlight on Felix and FAC in the upcoming weeks but for now I want to spend some time on reviewing a few of their world class cigars.

I was told about FAC through a BOTL on social media and he spoke very highly of all of their cigars. As life got busy I sort of forgot about them until I saw a post online for the II Saints cigar. Felix replied to one of my comments and directed me to the online store which happened to be down that day. We struck up a conversation and I placed an order via DM and we have chatted a couple of times since. Felix is a great man and very down to earth. I received my order yesterday and could not wait to try them all. First thing I noticed was the construction of the cigars. These are some of the most well constructed cigars I have seen. Right away you can see the quality of the cigar and the artwork of not only the bands but the sticks themselves.

I decided to try the cigar that sparked my interest in the first place, the II Saints. This cigar is available in 5 sizes but I chose one in particular and for a very specific reason. The La Petite Mort 5 x 52. Why you ask? If any of you follow me online you know that I am a music head. I love all types of music (well mostly) and if you are fans of Metal you may have heard of a band from Flint called King 810. Their sophomore album is titled La Petite Mort or A Conversation With God. For that reason alone I had to go with it. I exchanged a couple of messages with Felix and he asked me if I knew what La Petite Mort meant in French and I said yes and told him. He said “Yes, but the French use it in a much different way”. I found that it means “the brief loss or weakening of consciousness” and in modern usage refers specifically to “the sensation of orgasm as likened to death”. The expression comes from French, in which it literally means “the little death”. When you smoke this cigar in this votive you will clearly appreciate this history lesson. LOL.

Made in Nicaragua the II Saints features a beautiful dark brown Jamastran Criollo 98 wrapper with a Jamastran binder and Jamastran / Jalapa filler. Never heard of Jamastran? I hadn’t either so here is a little info on that.

“II Saints is produced in our factory in Esteli, Nicaragua with Tobaccos grown from our farm in Jamastran, Honduras.
The valley in Jamastran is known for its flavorful tobaccos which feature a sweetness and strength inherent in each puff. II Saints Cigars are all box pressed like most of our brands. II Saints feature a Lijero dark wrapper marking the cigar as a unique find in the cigar world.”

20161202_121951-01

So before I get too far into this let me preface this by saying that I had every intent of giving a detailed review on this cigar, however…Apparently my palate needs some serious work and expansion because this cigar was unlike ANYTHING I have ever tasted before. Holy     $!#@. As you can see from the photos, the cigar is a beautiful dark brown with an awesome band (shown above credit halfwheel) and it smells of barnyard hay, earth and a faint sweetness. I used a Xikar guillotine cut and matches to get it started, finished with a Xikar dual flame to finish. The first draw hit the me with a ton of flavor. There were certainly notes that I have had in other Nicaraguan cigars but the Jamastran adds and different level to this cigar. I can’t pinpoint what it is or really how to explain it so you just have to try it for yourself. There is a spice that hits the tongue and lingers for awhile but is balanced by a sweetness that makes it creamy and smooth. It is certainly full bodied and full flavor for sure. I was surprised at how complex and different this cigar truly was. As I made my way through the first third, the flavor remained the same throughout. Tons of flavor, sharp burn line, draw was good with a bit of resistance, and a good amount of white smoke.

As I moved into the second third, it turned just a bit to more of a woodsy/spicy blend. I didn’t pick up as much sweetness but the flavor was still complex and kept me interested. Ash held for more than 1 inch before I initially dropped it. I was in my garage with the heat on due to the cold weather and the cigar seemed to need that extra air to keep it going. The burn line stayed completely even throughout the cigar which demonstrates the quality of the construction of this cigar.

20161202_191518-011

Moving to the final third of this beauty and it stayed true to the first 2 thirds. A bit of the sweetness returned and the flavor never truly changed but it was complex enough to remain enjoyable for the entire smoke.

Warning: I found myself not wanting to put it down for long trying to figure out what I was tasting and I will say this, as a medium to full bodied smoker, this cigar does pack a punch and will test you if you are not use to full bodied smokes. Take your time with it. You have been warned. I did not get sick but this stick is very capable of it if you rush it or are not use to a smoke this strong.

Final thoughts. I really enjoyed this cigar. It was full bodied and has a lot of flavor from start to finish. I smoked this cigar down to less than 1 inch and the flavor profile remained true to the end. The blend is complex and tasty and people with a more experienced palate may be able to pinpoint all of the flavors, I could not. I will say that the Jamastran / Jalapa filler adds a level of flavor that sets this cigar apart from anything I have tried and I was not the least bit upset by that. I would recommend this cigar to anyone. Felix Assouline has a reputation of making World Class Cigars and I have heard this from many people I respect in the community. Again, proceed with caution on this one as far as strength goes but it is a Box worthy smoke for me for sure.

Hope you enjoyed the review and as always, I welcome comments, other reviews, questions etc. Now the challenge is, which one to try next? Felix sent me a special gift and asked me to review it so maybe we go with that one next. As always with cigars, so many great choices, so little time to smoke them all! I can think of worse problems. Have a great one folks. Peace!

         20161202_121617-0120161201_194239-01

It’s not a cigar…It’s a 1502

I  heard the brand 1502 being talked about in a few shops and online but I had never gotten the opportunity to try them. After exchanging a few comments with Enrique of 1502 on social media and placing an order through Cigar Federation, I finally had the opportunity to try 2 from their line-up.

First up was the 1502 Emerald. 6.5 x 52 box pressed torpedo. Made by Global Premium Cigars  Country of Origin: Nicaragua Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Corojo Binder: Nicaraguan Filler: Nicaraguan (Esteli, Condega) & Mexican (San Andreas)

Looking at the cigar it is caramel brown in color with a nice Emerald green (duh) and gold wrapper, and had minimal veins and super tight seams. I picked up notes of pepper and wood from the foot. Straight cut and match to start the burn, touched up with a dual flame torch.

The draw was very nice with a touch of resistance and produced a lot of smoke. Pepper (maybe a mix of black pepper and cedar) mixed with a coffee or cocoa blend hit my palate. As I move through the first third, I find the cocoa has a slight dark chocolate bitterness (in the good dark chocolate way) that evens out the pepper and spice nicely.

Going into the second third, the earthy, spice (cedar and pepper) take over and remained through the final third of this cigar. I found this to be a nice smooth blend throughout the entire cigar and it was a mild to medium strength cigar to me.

The ash never got more than 1/2 to 3/4 inches and the burn was even and sharp. I had no issues keeping it lit with no touchups required. With so many great cigars coming out of Nicaragua these days, adding the Mexican San Andreas sets the flavor profile of this cigar apart. It has a nice cedar woodsy flavor mixed with some spice. I really enjoyed this cigar and I think it would be a nice addition to any humidor. If you are newer to cigars and want something with a slight kick and flavor, I would recommend trying this cigar. Total time was 1 hour 50 minutes. Paired with Water. 20161128_1937051

Up next was the 1502 Black Gold Toro. 6 x 50 Wrapper: Sun Grown Maduro Binder and Filler: Nicaraguan

As the name suggest, this cigar is a dark brown maduro wrapper with a Black and Gold band. It also has barley visible seams and the foot is partially covered. It smells of leather and spice with earth notes. Guillotine cut and match lit with dual flame touch up produced a nice draw with some resistance and lots of smoke.

I am met with a lot of cocoa and spice to start out the first third. The cocoa was almost like an espresso with a bit of spice mixed in. The burn was a little jagged and uneven but not too bad.

Moving into the second third the earth notes come in nicely and there is a subtle sweetness added to the blend. I am not sure I can pinpoint it but it reminds me of dried fruit of some sort. It is complex enough to make it interesting but not overwhelming and it is flavorful for sure. I find it to have a lot of flavor but is medium to full in strength.

As I get into the final third, I still have the dried fruit flavor with the espresso or cocoa flavor mixing with the spice. The spice hangs on for a bit. The burn and draw were both good throughout and no touch ups were needed.

This was a good cigar that leans towards the full flavored and full bodied strength. As a fan of the maduro, I would smoke this cigar again. I would certainly pick up a 5 pack and put it into my rotation. Total smoke time was 1 hour 45 minutes. Paired with Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

20161128_1935561

I have a Blue Sapphire in the humidor and I hope to review it soon. At the price point, it isn’t an everyday smoke so I am hanging on to it for a nice occasion.

I will say that I enjoyed both of these cigars a lot. They were a nice change in flavor and strength and I would smoke them again for sure. They make an XO which I would love to try as I am a huge fan of the Balmoral Anejo XO, both of which are 18 year aged. I would be interested to compare the 2.

Feel free to check them out at http://www.globalpremiumcigars.com/ and leave your comments and reviews here.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out the reviews. Until next time…Peace.

News and info

20161009_140715-011

Leaf by Oscar Coroja and smoked ribs

Hope everyone had a great weekend full of great smokes and good times. I just wanted to drop in and let you know that I am working on some good stuff behind the scenes and talking with some great people that are going to be featured here very soon. Getting a lot of support and encouragement along the way but I need your help. Please spread the word and share us on social media. I can’t do this without followers and I want to make this a place that people want to come and spend a little time reading and engaging.

I scored some great smokes this weekend and I am looking forward to trying them and reviewing them here very soon. I am also looking for some reviewers and bloggers that may want to join in and help with reviews, articles, etc.

I am going to start a boutique spotlight feature starting very soon dedicated to the companies, people behind the companies and the products they make. This is something I am very much looking forward to doing because never in a million years did I ever think I would have people I look up to in the industry reach out and offer to help with this project. If you are a fan of any certain brand/s, drop me a comment about who they are and we can try to arrange a piece on them. Also, let them know about us so if they want to be featured, we can set them up. I have a list of great companies already and I am just waiting on the getting the info so I can start.

I also want to feature local cigar and pipe shops. If you have a favorite, drop me a comment. Tell us what makes them special to you. This helps us get a feel for where we are being seen and puts others in touch with awesome shops to support if they travel to your area. I am spoiled because I have a few major players in our area, but we also have some great local spots with some really awesome people. As an Ambassador for Cigar Rights of America (check them out at www.cigarrights.org and become a member) I am getting to travel to a few shops in and around my area and it’s always cool to experience new places and meet new people. Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf are some of the best people you will ever meet. I have always been amazed at how friendly, open, and downright generous people in this community are. We want to support those places!

New logo in the works. Looking to do a simple Vintage type logo that we can use here and on social media so people can start to recognize us as we build a brand. Maybe we can look at merch later down the road. We shall see how it goes.

So anyway, please check back often, spread the word and drop some comments. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I may do a dedicated page for the blog as we start to grow. Thanks for the support and stay smokey friends! Peace

 

So what are some Boutique Brands? What is your Favorite Boutique and why?

 

So tonight I want to open it up to anyone that reads and/or follows the blog. What is your favorite boutique and what makes it special? Loaded question isn’t it? With so many fantastic boutique cigars on the market today how can you possibly choose A favorite cigar? I can honestly say that I could not narrow it down to one certain cigar. Every time I try a new brand or new cigar by brands I already know, its like they just keep getting better. Then I go back to cigars I haven’t had in awhile and its like trying it again for the first time and it is better than I remembered it. How many of you can say that about the last big box brand you had? Granted I have had some good big name cigars that were impressive to a point, but to go through the entire line up and say without a doubt that each one was as consistent as the first or better, I would have a hard time. I can think of probably 2 major brands that I can honestly say, I have never had a cigar from them that I didn’t like.

So some of the boutique brands that I want to feature here tonight are brands that I have either personally tried, or they have come Highly recommended by friends and people I interact with on a regular basis. Some I will be ordering very soon since I have found a website that carries a very good boutique selection and are super awesome to deal with. That would be the great folks at www.cigarfederation.com (Free plug because they rock). I encourage you to visit their site and throw all of your money at them because they don’t sell anything but the best. Their Color Project stuff I hear is off the charts good. I am hoping to get some of them soon! They also carry every one of the brands I am going to mention. (I have no affiliation with them, not sponsored or employed by them, just showing love to those that deserve it)

Ok, brands. These are also companies that I hope will allow us to feature them on a weekly spotlight we are looking to start very soon. I have 2 companies lined up now, just working out the details.

1502 Cigars. Have not tried them yet, highly recommended to me by several people I know and trust.

Balmoral Cigars. Personal top 5 cigars for me. 18 year aged given to me by my wife on our anniversary and after the first third I called my friends at www.cigarsonstate.com (Clark Summit Pa free plug cause they rock too) where she found them and ordered a box without hesitation. You won’t regret dropping the cash on this stick.

BLK WKS Black Works Studio. Created by James and Angela Brown of Black Label Trading Company. They are dropping so many fantastic sticks, I am considering a second mortgage on my house. Killer Bees, Green Hornets, NBK, Bishops Blend, Boondock Saints, Sindustry, Rorschach, phew what did I miss? Everyone I have tried has been head bangers. The vibe and feel of the brand, James is one of the coolest, down to earth people you will meet and they are making INCREDIBLE cigars.

Black Label Trading Company – The one that started it all for me and my love for boutique cigars. Lawless, Redemption, Deliverance, Benediction, Morphine, Last Rites and more. Fantastic brand. Love their vibe, love the feel to the brand, and love their cigars even more. Lifetime fan for sure. Some of my favorite go to cigars on a regular basis.

Caldwell Cigars – Caldwell has released some great cigars that I have enjoyed a lot. Blind Mans Bluff, Eastern Standard, The King is Dead, are all really good cigars. He just did a collaboration with Jon Drew called All Out Kings. I have not tried it yet but I hear good things about it.

Crowned Heads – Jon Huber and crew make some of the best cigars on the planet in my opinion. Based in Nashville, the music vibe and theme for their cigars, along with the blends they are doing are just incredible. My first cigar from them was the Mason Dixon and I have been hooked every since. Headley Grange, Jericho Hill, JD Howard, Four Kicks, La Imperiosa, Las Mareas, are some of the many great cigars they make.

Crux – Hearing a lot about this brand as of late. I have only had one of their cigars and I really enjoyed it. I am hoping to try more of what they have out. #GoCruxYourself

Ezra Zion – I have not tried these however, I found them in stock online and they are mine! Do not try to order them I am calling dibs now and I licked everyone of them! Back off! I have been searching for them at a few local spots and they are always gone. I am guessing there is a reason for that. They come highly recommended.

Illusione – What a mysterious brand. Visit their website and see for yourself. Very intriguing company. I have heard some great things about their cigars. Looking forward to trying them very soon.

Nat Sherman – New York New York. I just killed that Sinatra impression…turn your speakers up and you will hear for yourself! I have had a few of these and they are terrific cigars. I actually have 2 or 3 in the humidor that I have been eyeing for the last few days. Maybe this weekend my friends. Start spreading the news… Yep, I did that.

Nomad – Fred Rewey is not your typical cigar maker. Says it right on his website. And boy am I happy about that fact! This guy is KILLING it. When I met James Brown last month he recommended the Martial Law which just so happened to be in stock, so I took it home. The next day I cut the cap and took a cold draw, what the what???? I couldn’t light it fast enough. The initial draw hit my taste buds and back of my throat like a dose of cayenne pepper from my home state of Louisiana, and then blended so perfectly and smooth. Next up was the C-276. Another fantastic stick that I really, really enjoyed. I found more Nomad online and plan to try many more from them soon.

Room 101 – Started by Matt Booth I have tried a few 101 cigars. Payback, Johnny Tobacconaut, Daruma Gold and the San Andres. All of which I enjoyed very much. The big Payback was a bit on the larger ring gauge spectrum for me but it was a great smoke. Matt also makes some incredible jewelry. Think West Coast meets Far East tradition. I recently won a nice Xikar Room 101 cutter that I use on a regular now. Thanks Matt, Xikar and Famous Smoke Shop for that!

Surrogates – I heard about them through my brother in law recently and started doing some research. So far I am seeing nothing but great reviews and looking forward to picking some up to review and try.

Tatuaje – What can you say? This company is so highly regarded in the boutique world and for damn good reason. Pete Johnson has created some of the best cigars at the My Father Cigar Factory in Nicaragua. I had a 10th Anniversary on a cruise recently that I enjoyed, Tatuaje Black, Fausto, Havana VI, and Tattoo are all wonderful sticks.

So there you have it. These are just a FEW of the many, many great boutique brands that you will find out there. Like I said, I started with these because I am either very familiar with them, smoke them regularly, or they have been very highly recommended. I am talking with a few other brands now that I am hoping to feature very soon. I hope you got some info from this. Please feel free to comment, share and drop us your favorite brands. ALL are welcome here and we would love to do a feature piece on each and every one of them in the future. Please send them to the page and have them contact us at the top of the page. Until next time, smoke em if you got em. Peace!

 

 

 

 

What is a Boutique Brand or Cigar?

This is a question that gets debated frequently in the cigar world and one that isn’t exactly very cut and dry to answer. There are some variations of the term that get used a lot and in my opinion misused in order to describe a “small batch” put out by larger cigar manufactures that we are told are “boutique blends”.

Right now the cigar industry is going through a new and exciting phase with the explosion of new, innovative, creative, masterful, artful, passionate people that are developing and creating some of the best cigars the world has ever seen. Sadly, many of them go undiscovered because these cigars don’t get the publicity of the big brands because the companies simply choose to invest their promotional and advertising dollars into high end, premium tobacco or more experienced torcedors that ensure the highest quality and craftsmanship. This new phase of cigar manufacturing and influx of great new products is being driven by Boutique brands.

So the term boutique, as I understand it in the industry (again much debate goes into this) defines a company that produces less than 1.5 million cigars per year. I have heard that number at 1 million to 1.5 million. The other thing that gets considered is the cultivation of the small batches of tobacco and the high attention to detail that the cigars are made into. So those 2 things alone can describe boutiques and small batch cigars. Confused yet?

Boutique cigars, to me, are a premium handmade cigar, but unlike regular premium cigars, are made in small batches with much greater detail. The tobacco is special and hand selected, grown in smaller batches and used to create a very complex, distinct flavor. They are typically harder to find, and not available in every cigar shop making them a sought after commodity for those of us that love them. The flavor and aroma of these cigars are not to be found in a regular premium cigar. For me, it’s more than just a cigar. It’s knowing the passion and artistry that was put into each cigar, the vibe of the brand, the artwork on the band, knowing how hard they can be to get your hands on, seeing the quality of the construction, knowing that you are not one of the sheepeople mindlessly smoking whatever they have been told is the “next great cigar” only to feel ripped off or trying to convince yourself that you actually liked the taste of shoe leather and ashtray. It’s about the experience and knowing that you have something that is special and most of the world will never experience it. The true hidden gems of the cigar industry.

Many times when I am in a cigar shop and pick up a boutique cigar and people ask me about it, I hear “never heard of it, how much is it?” I know right then that they are not usually someone that I can convince to try it so I don’t bother trying. Other times I get “Never heard of it, how is it?” Those are the ones that have a chance. Sometimes they opt for a more familiar choice, but they are thinking about trying it later on. Sometimes I just feel like being generous and I will just buy them one and watch them as they experience it for the first time. It’s almost magical to see their expressions as their senses come alive and they give you the “Damn, this is a good cigar”. Welcome to the world of true boutique cigars my friend. You are welcome. I certainly remember my first one and I no regular premium cigar had topped it yet. Not to say that there aren’t many great premiums out there because there are, and on occasion I do smoke them. Shhh.

Jonathan Drew posed the question in Cigar Advisor awhile back “At what point does a ‘Boutique Cigar Company’ lose it’s roots and become a ‘Corporate Cigar Company?’ The answer is the same as the question, ‘When does a person become old?’ The answer is defined by the person’s heart, their attitude and, in this case, in the market’s perception, quite honestly.”

I thought that was a brilliant take on the topic. Obviously, JD has become one of the largest cigar manufactures in the world, but the culture and cult like following of their many brands is something you find at a much smaller level with many current boutique brands. You can’t walk into a cigar shop today without finding something that Drew Estate produces or has a distribution deal with. One of my all time favorite cigars is the Balmoral Anejo XO and they have been around forever but are under the distribution of Drew Estate.

As these smaller companies continue to grow and word spreads, a few may strike some big distribution deals and get into heavy rotation with the big box stores. If that happens, it will be interesting to see how many of them keep their same high quality standards. I think for the most part many of them will do just fine. I also think some of them aren’t out there looking for that big deal and just love doing what they do.

How many of you have been to a cigar event that featured a big name cigar maker? They are always nice, willing to take a photo with you, sign an autograph on the box you purchased and all of that fun stuff. Nothing wrong with it at all. Been there, done that. It had that big brand feel to the entire experience. How many of you have had the chance to attend an event with the owner of a boutique brand? Night and day experience. The most down to earth, humble, nice, generous people you could ever hope to meet. It’s not just about the sales for the night, it’s about meeting the people that support their brands and enjoy their creations. They willingly give up their time to have real conversations about things outside of cigars. These are the people that I respect and admire in the business. They are creating such high quality works of art, in my opinion, with such passion and dedication that most of the successful guys seem to have lost. Don’t get me wrong, many of the most successful cigar makers are still very passionate and creative, but the feel is different. It’s almost like Ford Motor Company and Bugatti. Both make products they are passionate about, just at much different levels of quality and quantity.

Which leads me to my last point. Cost of a boutique vs. a regular premium cigar. Why such a big difference? Is there a big difference? Is a micro-brew more expensive than a Miller Lite? Why is that? They are both beer right? A boutique is just a premium cigar right? Wrong. The quality of the tobacco is much higher, the construction of each hand rolled cigar is on a different level, the blends are better, the flavor and aroma are unmatched. They also have higher shipping cost and to fewer stores. So if a boutique comes in at $9.50 per cigar vs. Big Brand Box Store with all of it’s marketing, mass production and lower shipping cost is on the shelf next to it at $7.95 how much cheaper is it vs. what you are actually paying for? Certainly the quality is going to be inferior to the boutique, the flavor won’t come close, the construction won’t be as good and at the end of the day you were left with a subpar smoke that passed the time, but did you honestly walk away from it going “That was a fantastic cigar and I enjoyed the hell out of this”? I know the answer because as someone that smoked many big brand cigars over the past few years I have had exactly 1 cigar that made me purchase more than a 5 pack. (Balmoral) On the flip side of that, I own more boutique cigars than anything else. Why, because they are effing incredible cigars, that’s why. If I had more money, no wife, a large humidor, and a house I could smoke in, I would be on TLC as the cigar hoarder and they would be trying to do an intervention on my a$$. Just kidding babe (I am already in trouble because I said I was doing stuff on boutiques and she got excited thinking it was clothing…my response was not to her approval) anyway…moving on.

Not sure if this cleared anything up but I would love to hear some feedback and suggestions. Please spread the word about us. I have some pretty exciting news coming up in the next day or so. Working out some details for some special guest, finalizing the format for the Boutique Spotlight section of the blog, getting some great support from many in the industry and on social media so stay tuned. Let’s make this thing blow up!

Thanks for stopping by. Light em if you got em. Peace!

20160925_163726_hdr-01

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to CigarHawkBlog

Hey! Thanks for stopping by! Let me start this by saying I am in no way, shape or form a professional writer, blogger or social media mogul. I am just a guy that got into cigars a couple of years back and it has become a passion of mine. I most recently got introduced to pipe smoking and although I enjoy it, cigars are, and will remain my passion. Not to take anything away from the pipe folks, but for me, cigars is where its at. We can debate that all later on.

So why a blog? With so much available on social media (follow me on Twitter, Insta, and FB, shameless plug right there) I wanted something more. I wanted a place where people who enjoy premium cigars and pipes can visit, learn about new products, current events, trends in the industry, updates to the FDA bull$@it that we are fighting, share reviews of products and most importantly to me, support smaller boutique brands and companies that are making some of the highest quality products on the markets but don’t have the marketing budgets that the big brands have.

I stumbled upon Black Label Trading Company through a web search about a year and a half ago and I went on a mission to find them in my local area. After many disappointing phone calls and stops at local shops, I was able to track down 1 shop that had them in stock. I took the 45 minute ride out and bought everyone they had. Why? What was it about this product that I have never tried or heard anyone talk about before that made me rush out and drop $100 + on their product? Honestly, the truth is simply their website and imagery. They looked and felt so much different from the traditional cigar companies we have all seen on every website, magazine and article. They had this dark, edgy, kind of a hip-hop/rock star/grunge, in your face type of vibe that made me want to stand out from the crowd of traditional cigar smokers. Although that image is rapidly changing, more  younger people are into cigars and it’s become more socially acceptable, for me, the image of sophisticated, wealthy groups of old guys stood out to me. I personally do not fit into those stereotypes and BLTC spoke to me.1467911127284

So I purchased a bunch of cigars I had only seen online before and got them home. Now what? What if I light them up and realize I just dumped a lot of cash into a garbage, gimmick cigar and I am stuck trying to pawn them off on people? Lucky for me that wasn’t an issue. From the moment I cut the cap and took my first cold draw on the Lawless cigar I picked, I knew this was something special. I lit that cigar and from that moment on, I was a fan of BLTC for life. The rest of the line-up was just as good and consistent as the first cigar I tried from them. As time has gone by, I have had the privilege of sitting down and enjoying a cigar with the man that started BLTC, James Brown, and he was by far one of the most down to earth, humble, generous people on the planet. I have met some of the Big Brand guys and although they are nice, you never get that comfortable feeling with them that they are just regular people making cigars. They always have that Big Brand feel about them. And rightfully so, as most of them have been in the industry their whole life and have built upon their families reputation and turned them into mega-brands. I will never say that the big name companies don’t make some great cigars, however, I will say that more times than not, when they release a new cigar, they dump tons of cash into marketing and advertising, branding and hype, and I finally get my hands on this new “game changing” cigar only to be left feeling like I paid for a Top Shelf Bourbon and was given Mad Dog 20/20. Not to say the effects of drinking too much of both aren’t the same, but…at the end of the day, I expected much more.

So my love affair with Boutique cigars started by accident and I was sold on a brand. Next step, find more boutique brands and see how they stacked up to the big boys. Next up for me was Crowned Heads Cigars from Nashville. Nashville? Cigars? That’s like salsa from New York City right? I figured what the hell? What’s $8.50 for a cigar I never heard of right? Ultimately unless you have been smoking cigars for 20 years, almost every trip to the local humidor is a crapshoot anyway. I picked out a Mason Dixon by Crowned Heads and gave it a shot. Again, right out of the gate I knew I had discovered another gem. Since then I have tried almost every cigar they have made with the exception of a few that I cannot find. My wife and I are heading to Nashville in a month so my plan is to stop by and visit their office and see if Jon has any unicorns he will part with. On top of making great cigars, Jon Huber is a big fitted hat guy and they make some awesome head gear. I continue to try anything and everything Crowned Heads makes and every time I think I have found my favorite, they put out a new stick and it blows my theory of “go to” cigar all to hell and I am left going online to figure out what box to order. I could think of worse choices right?

Since then I have been on a mission to try out new brands and blends as I can find them. Blk Wks (Black Works Studio) is also from James Brown of BLTC and right now they are dropping so many amazing cigars I am thinking about taking a part time job to make extra money to buy them…As I always tell my wife, I should have been born rich instead of so good looking. Yeah, she laughs at me also. FML.

Nomad by Fred Rewey is making cigars that are just incredible. Haven’t found one yet that I haven’t added to the instant favorite cigar list. 1502 Cigars, Emilio Cigars, and Ezra Zion Cigar Company are some that I have not yet had the opportunity to try, I am hearing great things about and look forward to experiencing.

Leaf by Oscar is another cigar that I am currently a huge fan of. My first impression of the tobacco leaf wrapped packaging was 100% gimmick cigar. WRONG! Wow what a smoke. I have had 3 of the 4 blends and all have been excellent.

So switching gears here a bit, I hope that you will come back and visit as I start to do this on a more regular basis as work and life allow me to. I will be reaching out to some boutique reps, owners, reviewers, and bloggers and trying to get some outside help to build this page and spread the word about everything cigar and pipe related. My goal is to make this thing a trusted resource for legit info and reviews about smaller brands and help them grow their business. I am not doing this for money or anything like that. I am doing this because I believe in the people behind these amazing products and I feel that the cigar world is missing out on some great products that in reality may cease to exist in the very near future because of the recent FDA rulings. I think it is an unfair, absolute travesty and the main reason I am an Ambassador for Cigar Rights of America. I invite and encourage all of you to at the very least, visit the website www.cigarrights.org and sign the petition, and if you like what we are about and want to help us fight, become a member. Please put my name Scott Hawkes in the referral box if you do. I would greatly appreciate that and CRA would appreciate your contribution and membership.

Again, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings. I hope that you will stop by and check us out as we get this started. I hope to have a lot more content for you in the very near future. Hopefully some decent reviews, maybe some guest blogs or some Q&A with some of the reps, or owners if they feel so inclined. Feel free to drop some comments, you can email me at cigarhawk16@gmail.com anytime. Until next time, light em if you got em.

Peace.