Russ Ouellette
You can build a brand any number of ways. Lots of advertising and/or promotion is one way to get name recognition. So is product presentation, like flashy packaging. You could develop a “rock star” image for yourself or your company to be a bit more edgy. But, for long term growth and success, the best way is to make a quality product at a fair price, and that seems to be the approach that Alan Rubin has taken in building the Alec Bradley brand (named for his sons).

I remember the first couple of cigars that we carried from AB, the Occidental Reserve bundles (still in production), and the Trilogy triangularly pressed cigars. I was pleased with both, and looked forward to future products. I became a fan of the Maxx cigars which offer a lot of flavor, larger sizes and a reasonable price. Since then, there has been a string of solid entries from them, and one notable example is the Family Blend.

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Russ Ouellette
Ocean State Cigars haven’t been around all that long, and I remember being pleased with the original J. Grotto, but it didn’t make it into my favorites.
When I received samples of the new J. Grotto Series Reserve to review, I was surprised by how attractive the cigar was. An oily chestnut colored wrapper with only a couple of noticeable veins covers a nice, firm 6 x 52 cigar with a small pigtail cap. The elaborate main band sits above a secondary band with "Reserve" to differentiate it from the original. The tawny wrapper is Honduran Criollo as is the binder, and the filler is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan Ligero.

I don’t want to sound like I’m channeling Andy Rooney, but why are there so many oversized and double bands? Certainly they can be attractive, but how many sticks are damaged by removing monster-sized bands and ripping the wrapper? I’m okay with cigar art, but only if the band is glued to itself without the adhesive getting on the leaf. But that’s enough kvetching.

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Russ Ouellette
A while back,
Altadis USA brought out a line of Dominican handmades that were smooth, creamy and well constructed at a very reasonable price, and they quickly became a best seller in our store. That cigar was Vega Fina, which I understand has done very well for Altadis in the European market. So when I heard that José Seijas, the master blender for Tabacalera de Garcia (Altadis’ Dominican factory) was going to do a limited edition version, I was interested to see what they had in mind.

The cigar only comes in a chunky 56 ring gauge robusto and features a smooth and almost veinless tawny colored Mexican San Andrés Criollo wrapper with Dominican binder and filler. The construction of this cigar features a combination I’ve come to expect and appreciate from Altadis—a firm cigar with a smooth and easy draw.

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Tad Gage
Pride Cigars Badolero Butch Cassidy Cigar ReviewGunning for a full-bodied smoke,
Pride Cigars Founder/President/Blender Ares Contreras nailed a bulls eye with his husky Bandolero line. I sampled several of the toros in a lineup that also includes a robusto "Billy the Kid" (5 ¼ x 50), torpedo "Jesse James" (6 1/8×52) and super toro "Pancho Villa" (6×60). The Bandolero tobaccos are predominately Dominican, with the addition of some Nicaraguan in the filler. The leaf is aged three years before being completed at Pride Cigar’s Dominican Republic facility. If you want a hearty, yet smooth, cigar, the Bandolero delivers.

Not to overdo the whole cowboy thing, there is a bit of the Old West in the cigar’s appearance. The deep brown colorado wrapper is exceptionally oily, with a fair display of bumps and prominent veins, giving it a slightly rugged look that’s nicely offset by the band, printed with colors reminiscent of a glowing campfire, and crossed by a trusty six-shooter. The cigars come individually cello wrapped in boxes of 20 (of course, sold individually at retailers), and even the boxes play the Wild West card with the outlaw reward stamp burned into the interior of the lid. Overall, a very appealing (if somewhat theatrical) presentation.

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By Russ Ouellette
Review of Prensado CigarAs a rule, I dislike the proclamation of any product as "Best Something of the Year". It’s especially annoying when it regards something that has to be judged as subjectively as a cigar. If I have any knowledge of the subject, I usually find fault in these kinds of selections. Well, Cigar Aficionado just picked the Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill as Cigar of the Year for 2011, so it’s my duty to take another look at this award-winner.

This box-pressed 7 by 48 Churchill makes a very nice presentation with its silky, rich chocolate brown, long-fermented Corojo 2006 wrapper from Honduras’s Trojes region, and an elaborate but still elegant band. The cigar is firm and even, and the visual cues present a feeling of overall quality – small veins, almost seamless wrapping and a solid cap. The aroma of the unlit cigar is somewhat sweet and very rich.

I cut the cigar with a Palio, shaving the top third of the cap off. The pre-light draw was slightly firm but free, and had a nice aged tobacco note. I toasted the foot and lit the cigar, taking pleasure in the dense blue-white smoke.

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By Russ Ouellette
In recent years, the Alec Bradley line of cigars has carved out a solid niche in the market, starting with the Maxx and Tempus series and building through the Family Blend, SCR and American. They now have an intriguing new entry called the Black Market.

The cigars are visually striking in their packaging and in the appearance of the vitolas themselves. The lower half of the cigar is covered with a printed paper band, which partially covers a secondary band. When the lower sleeve is slipped off, a thin band surrounding the center is exposed. The wrapper itself is dark, silky and attractive, looking nearly seamless with minimal veins, and feeling firm and consistent in the hand.

An earthy barnyard aroma is evident on the pre-light, and the draw prior to lighting up revealed elements of coffee and nuts. After toasting the foot and lighting, I was surprised with the initial flavor. It reminded me of a nice black medium-roast coffee, like a Costa Rican blend- slightly sweet in an almost herbal way with an underlying spice that is more like Italian-type flavors than pepper.

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By Tad Gage
I have seen and smoked an awful lot of cigars over the years,
but I’ve never encountered a band quite like one on this new offering from Achievement Cigar Company (ACC). The cigar is a 50 ring and about 6 inches, and the four-inch band covers most of the cigar. Just viewing it, I felt like I was watching a 1930s fan dance by Sally Rand: lots of tease, but what’s underneath? The reason I don’t like big cigar bands is that they can hide a lot of wrapper flaws, or try to "wow" you with elegance when there is nothing underneath.

So, cutting to the chase, I removed the band (which was lightly glued and, admittedly, easy to peel). Low and behold, this Sally Rand was smokin’ hot. This was one gloriously oily, deep brown Colorado wrapper. The three-piece cap, which you actually can see even with the band on, was seamlessly applied. I admit to not being familiar with this brand, which was founded in Ecuador in 1952 using only Ecuadorian tobacco, and which has evolved into a company utilizing a variety of leaf from numerous countries. ACC is a very well-kept secret, but no longer!

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By Tad Gage
Bossner Pyramid Reserva Cleopatra Pyramid Cigar ReviewBossner offers a variety of lines
that include Dominican product and Nicaraguan leaf in the filler and binder, and a Brazilian wrapper. The Cleopatra features the most beautiful Brazilian Colorado wrapper I’ve ever seen. It’s lightly oily, and so free of large veins that it’s nearly seamless. Brazilian leaf is extensively used in filler tobacco blends to add its characteristic sweetness and body. While cultivation of Brazilian-grown leaf has made great strides in the past two decades, it is still an extremely difficult leaf to work with as a wrapper. It tends to be thick, tough and not particularly attractive. Bossner’s ability to incorporate this leaf into an attractive wrapper is a coup. While wrapper leaves fluctuate in how much they contribute to the cigar’s flavor based on several variables, this one showed the potential of offering even more flavor than usual.

Russian-born and Berlin-based entrepreneur Konstantin Bossner doesn’t say much in the way of describing his product, except that each size of cigar (and there are 18 or so) can range from temperamental or melancholy to manly or childlike. The company’s website is equally quirky for this exporter of Bossner premium cognac and confections. Okay, I can live with quirky, if there is a good product as the payoff.

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By Tad Gage
Torano Vault Cigar ReviewIn these days of corporate anonymity, I admit I’m partial to family owned and managed businesses. My favorite smoking pipe to collect is one made by a five-generation family-run company.
And there are a number of multi-generational success stories in the pipe making, tobacco store and cigar manufacturing worlds.

The Toraño family is certainly one of those family affairs. Charlie Toraño, the current president of Toraño Family Cigar Company, is the fourth generation of the family to manage this business. Jack Toraño is marketing director, and father Carlos Toraño, Sr. remains active in the company.

It all started in 1916 when Santiago Toraño emigrated from Spain to Cuba, where he became a leading leaf broker and later, a cigar leaf grower. Leaving 17 tobacco fields and facilities behind when Fidel Castro nationalized the industry in 1959, the family set up shop in the Dominican Republic, becoming one of the founders of the non-Cuban cigar industry by introducing and nurturing the mother of cigar leaf: Pilato Cubano.

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By Gregory L. Pease, Associate Editor

Villiger’s La Libertad series has been known to European cigar smokers for some time, and the European market Honduran cigar has been amassing impressive reviews and strong ratings "over there," but what about us on this side of the puddle? At last, La Libertad is coming to America. Sort of. While we’re getting the name, and hopefully, the quality, it’s a different blend, made in different shapes from different tobaccos. And, by the way, it’s made in a different factory in a different country. So, what, exactly, are we getting? Let’s have a look.

Made in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. market version of this cigar wears a beautiful Peru-grown Havana seed wrapper over a Nicaraguan seed binder, also Peruvian, and a filler of Santo Domingo and Nicaraguan ligero tobaccos. I smoked the Robusto, at 5" x52, a slightly chubbier version of the classic vitola, and the delightfully proportioned Torpedo at 5-1/2" x52.

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