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It should come as no surprise that everyone at CIGAR.com loves cigars and premium tobacco, and it’s truly a passion we convey to all customers, but what about an even more detailed discussion?
Welcome to the Member’s Lounge, a monthly digest where the current “top picks” around the CIGAR.com office are highlighted. Let us provide the same detailed scoop you'd come to expect if we sat down in a smoking lounge together, as we share our knowledge and passion for all things cigar with you.
Hermann Upmann was more than an enterprising German banker – his success in the cigar business began as the result of persuasion. In 1839 he was on a ship to the New World to work for an import-export company, when a British passenger aware of the flourishing tobacco trade pleaded with young Hermann to make an extended stay in Cuba. This man made such an impression on 23 year-old Hermann that not only did he decide stay in Havana, but he learned the processes of the cigar-making trade and purchased a factory, thus beginning his namesake H. Upmann cigar brand five years later in 1844.
Upmann was very successful as a cigar manufacturer. By 1855, he was awarded the honor of being the cigar purveyor for Don Alfonso XII, the King of Spain; he owned one of the largest tobacco fields in all of Cuba, and became the Director of the Havana Cigar Brand Association, an organization dedicated to the eradication of counterfeit cigars. (Ironic that over a century before the US Embargo, Cuba was still concerned with fakes!) Hermann had difficulty with the tropical climate and thus invited his youngest brother, August, to Havana in 1848 to take his place overseeing the day-to-day operations of the business. After returning to Germany, the elder Upmann founded another cigar company in his hometown of Bremen, which operated until 1870.
Before I get into the details regarding the 175th Anniversary blend, I’d be remiss to not discuss two crucial facts that cement the Upmann family into the annals of cigar history: the establishment of the Upmann Bank, and the invention of the cedar cigar box. In 1864 Hermann’s nephew, Heinrich, moved to Cuba with enough capital to fund a brokerage catering to tobacco dealers and manufacturers. This initiative was so successful, it allowed H. Upmann Cigars to become what we now know as vertically-integrated, meaning everything from seed beds to harvesting to curing to rolling and packaging was done by their company. During this innovation brothers Hermann and August are attributed with inventing the cedar cigar box, realizing the importance of Spanish cedar throughout the rolling, aging, and storing processes.
Almost two full centuries later, here we are, as the 175th Anniversary Churchill has been released to commemorate the longevity of one of the oldest continuing brands on the market. This blend was only made in a single vitola, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way. It’s a Nicaraguan puro comprised of only rare Medio Tiempo leaves located at the highest part of the tobacco plant, aka the portion which is naturally endowed with the most flavor. Extremely smooth, this medium to full-bodied cigar is laden with notes of sweet cream, leather, white and pink peppercorn, buttery cashews, and hints of vanilla. Showcasing both an ornate band and a foot-band, my favorite design feature is located just below the gold embossed H. Upmann 175th Anniversary insignia: look closely to see “This is my signature” and below, an actual facsimile of H. Upmann’s penmanship. A truly beautiful – and tasty – tribute to a man who embraced the art of the cigar, and became an important part of its history.
Born in Virginia but making his career in Kentucky, Henry Clay Sr. was an American attorney and statesman, having represented Kentucky in both the House and the Senate. Clay was the seventh House Speaker, ninth Secretary of State, and received electoral votes in three presidential elections over a span of 20 years. He earned the nickname the “Great Compromiser” for his role in diffusing sectional crises, but long-time cigar enthusiasts may think of Clay with respect to his other role as a “War Hawk,” paying homage to the role he and other young members of Congress played in pushing for a declaration of war against in British in 1812.
A brand since the 1840s, the Henry Clay cigars of yore were actually manufactured in Havana by Julian Alvarez. Despite re-designs over time, the Cuban version of these premiums always featured a portrait of the senator on the cigar band, and the brand was extremely popular through the 19th Century. Author Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book fame wrote a poem in 1898 titled The Betrothed, in which he immortalized both the man and the cigar with his line, “There’s calm in a Henry Clay.”
Despite dying out around the Great Depression, the Henry Clay brand was introduced to a new audience, as Tabacalera de García (owned by Altadis USA), purchased the rights to the brand. Some versions were more successful than others, but once Pete Johnson (Tatuaje Cigars) proclaimed his affinity for this classic brand, the name Henry Clay once again was discussed with prominence in cigar shops across the United States.
Nearly two centuries have passed since the original cigars were made, and Altadis released the Henry Clay LE 2018 Perfecto: a limited-edition blend rolled in a single vitola. The Perfecto with its tapered head, closed foot, and bulging midsection was a very popular shape in the US and overseas in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. While length and ring gauge can vary greatly, it’s important to note rollers with a higher-level of experience are charged with crafting this particular shape. It’s very easy for someone with lesser experience to not feel comfortable stretching the wrapper leaf to different tensions, as it takes an individual with a keen eye and great patience to execute correctly.
Donned with a simple black, gold, and white band, the LE 2018 doesn’t look like much, but the tobaccos used in the blend itself more than make up for its laid-back appearance. An oily Habano 2000 wrapper covers a Criollo ’98 binder, and long-filler leaves from Honduras and Nicaragua. Medium to full-bodied, this cigar is rich with notes of coffee bean, wood, baking spice, and the perfect amount of natural sugar to keep it all in balance. If you’re unfamiliar with the once-popular Habano 2000 leaf, it’s a cross between Cuban-seed and Connecticut Shade, and was actually first developed in Cuba – hence the name. H2000 wrappers were first grown in Nicaragua by Nestor Plasencia and, while thicker than traditional CT Shade, they’re still thinner than Broadleaf. Known for their earthy qualities, the varietal used on the Henry Clay LE 2018 Perfecto is actually fuller-bodied than its Cuban predecessor, due to the higher mineral content found in Nicaraguan soil.
I often discuss cigar blends like I would a great meal or a fantastic cocktail: there are layers and sensations created by the artisans behind them, and sometimes the best ones were created without the idea to share them amongst others. Sure cigars, food, and a good drink are better in pleasant company, but their creation can be so personal, that the thought of public dissemination isn’t on one’s mind. Welcome to the mid-2000s in Estelí, Nicaragua.
After joining Drew Estate as its President and eventual CEO, Steve Saka went to La Grán Fábrica wanting to use tobacco leaves for non-infused blends, ultimately churning out cigars which would develop a cult-like status. Saka’s love and familiarity with the once unpopular Connecticut Broadleaf was going to be a feature and, like any good blender, Saka worked on a variety of options before settling on what eventually became known as Liga Privada, or “Private Blend;” like the messaging eventually put on its label, it was hecho exclusivamente para el Jefe, or in English, “made exclusively for the Boss.”
When the company decided to first release some Liga Privada into the world, it was 2007 – many manufacturers were selling customers on the old-school idea of the puro, but Saka knew his four-country blend could be a hit. Every couple of years after that fateful time, the Drew Estate team would release different LP lines like the Liga Privada Único Serie, which encompasses multiple unique blends offered in a single size.
There have been a few instances since the mid-2000s where the Lancero (or Panatela) saw a resurgence, and the L40 is no exception. It’s a tricky size to blend and roll, and it takes real skill on both sides of the equation, which is another reason why this Liga in particular is so special. Pre-released in small batches beginning in July 2011, the L40 quickly became – and still is – a bit of a collector’s item.
Despite its diminutive 40-ring size, this cigar billows with thick smoke more associated with something much larger. The draw is insanely fluid from start-to-finish, which contributes to its razor-sharp burn. Comprised of a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper (Saka’s favorite), a Brazilian Mata Fina binder (my favorite), and a Cuban-seed filler blend grown in Nicaragua, it’s nothing short of a flavorful ride with marked transitions throughout each third. The L40 begins with prominent notes of dark chocolate and undertones of malt, before undergoing a peppery segue which will remind you of a piece of meat marinated in citrusy mojo. (If you’ve ever eaten Cuban food, you know this distinct flavor combination – it’s delicious!) The final third ramps up even more in strength, ending with nuances of anise, malt, and charred meat. This blend isn’t for faint of heart; if you’re already a fan of the original Liga Privada No. 9, however, then this is a must-have in your humidor.
Not long after the Cuban embargo went into effect did the US market begin to see an influx of cigars with familiar brand names, but manufactured on a different island. While it’s somewhat commonplace to see anniversary blend releases commemorating an entire brand, with the Montecristo Cincuenta however, we have a blend marking the anniversary of an entire factory.
The word cincuenta means “fifty” in Spanish, and so this cigar celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Altadis’ Tabacalera de García in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Released in 2019, this massive factory is home to other storied brands such as H. Upmann, Henry Clay, and Romeo y Julieta, and has played a pivotal role in the blending, rolling, and distribution of many famous cigars separated from Habanos SA via trademark law.
Sold in attractive, 10-count boxes with a piano finish and individual cedar dividers (I’m referencing first version), is the Montecristo Cincuenta: rolled in a 6”x50 Toro format is highly limited, with only 8,000 of these special boxes made. A little stronger than a traditional medium-bodied cigar, its Ecuador Sumatra wrapper complete with Dominican binder and long-fillers from the Dominican and Nicaragua make for a an attractive package – both to the eyes and the palate.
The Cincuenta Toro is simply put, harmony personified. Starting off with a bit of hay and sugar on the cold draw, upon first light, your palate will be met with some white and pink pepper, honey, and caramel. As the blend develops, the halfway mark sees a slight dissipation of caramel, and the introduction of dark roast coffee and nuances of roasted nuts. The final third is marked by a reduction in overall sweetness and nuttiness, and the emergence of leather and pepper independent of retrohale. Altogether, this makes for a triumphant ending, as many cigars have a tendency to diminish in strength and flavor profile at that time.
This is one of those rare times when the pretty packaging is not fluff for a sub-par product: the Montecristo Cincuenta is box-worthy. Only 80,000 cigars were made and they’ve been moving quickly, so it’s best to get your hands on them sooner so you’re not left wondering what you missed.
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