By Tad Gage
In 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.
Perhaps the reason the Toraño family isn’t widely known as a pioneering cigar family is that until 25 years ago, they were strictly growers, and not manufacturers. You didn’t see the Toraño name on cigar labels, although they were a backbone of leaf development outside Cuba. Carlos Toraño, Sr., Charlie’s dad, decided to shift the company focus from growing to manufacturing, although the family continues to closely manage all aspects of cigar cultivation. Today, the Miami-headquartered company has factories in Honduras and Nicaragua.
History and tradition is what the newly introduced Vault cigar is all about. This cigar and blend was first conceived in 2000. Toraño decided the blend, labeled Liga A-008, was missing something and it never came to fruition. But the formula was recorded in their blending book, which was started in 1982 to record promising blends. Some of these have been created, and others tabled.
When Charlie Toraño and Bruce Lewis revisited the blending book (which is stored in a bank safe deposit box, hence the name, "Vault"), they decided the missing ingredient might be a second binder leaf from Ometepe, Nicaragua, which was not available in 2000. Ometepe, an island located on the expansive Lake Nicaragua, was birthed from two now-inactive volcanos and is the world’s largest volcanic island located in a freshwater lake. Covered with rainforest, the rich volcanic ash soil and cooler micro-climate offers a rich environment for tobacco and coffee cultivation, and different soil and growing conditions than are found on mainland Nicaragua. Toraño notes the Ometempe is utilized as the secondary ligero binder. In character, I would say the tobacco represents a hybrid between the typically robust Nicaraguan and Honduran leaf and something slightly creamier grown on an island nation.
The Vault is being released in four sizes, a Robusto (5"x52 ring), Toro (6"x50 ring), Torpedo (6 1/8" x 52 ring) and a limited release Corona Gorda (5 5/8" x 46 ring). I sampled several of the Corona Gordas, which happens to be one of my favorite cigar sizes and shapes. It represents a perfect balance of a generous but not mammoth ring gauge and a enough length to offer a significant amount of change and complexity throughout the smoke.
The cigars are individually cello-wrapped and feature an attractive but not flashy silver and black band. A silver band on the foot declares "Blend A-008," a charming homage to this "secret formula."
A Most Unusual Construction: A Literal Dissection
The original A-008 blend included robust filler tobaccos from Esteli and Condega, Nicaragua, with a binder from the Jamastran region of Honduras and a shade grown Nicaraguan colorado wrapper. All continue to be available and are incorporated into the Vault. What’s highly unusual is the "missing ingredient" that turned out to be a second binder. You seldom encounter cigars with two binders.
The thick, tough binder leaf not only holds everything together, but is generally called upon to contribute body, depth, strength and spice. It’s one of the more pungent leaves in a cigar. Balancing the spice and strength of two binders, which could easily result in an overpowering cigar, is an impressive accomplishment.
Examining the cigar’s foot, the double binder doesn’t seem unusually thick. It appears both binders are slightly thinner than usual, resulting in a combination that’s about the same thickness as a normal single-leaf binder. Although dissecting a fine cigar borders on sacrilege, I was so intrigued by the double binder that I sacrificed a half inch of my cigar to analyze the construction.
The primary Honduran binder is somewhat thinner than a usual binder, but sufficient to hold the filler together. The secondary Ometepe binder, between the main binder and wrapper, is nearly as thin as a wrapper but clearly has the gnarly characteristics of binder leaf. Very clever construction. When burned, the Ometepe leaf has sweet, perfumed aroma.
The cigar’s shade grown wrapper is a smooth, chocolate-hued beauty with minimal veining and a nice, oily sheen. The three-part flag caps the cigar and is tightly and well-constructed, offering the potential for several types of cuts with no danger of unraveling. The overall construction is flawless – firm but yielding slightly under pressure, with no soft spots.
The cigar welcomes flame with ease, lighting evenly and settling into a nice burn from the get-go. I was hit with a blast of spice and black pepper that most certainly got my attention. There was no chance of exhaling this through my nose and "tasting" with my sinuses at risk of an eye-watering experience. At this point, I worried a little. Would the entire cigar be this potent? Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos can be pretty spicy and robust.
No reason for concern. After a few gentle puffs and a minute’s rest, my Corona Gorda started delivering loads of depth from aged leaf, with distinctive flavors and aromas of cedar, loam and farmland. The cigar’s flavor decidedly leaned toward earthy and woodsy, with nothing berry-like or chocolaty. But about two inches into the cigar, I picked up light flavors of oak and cocoa, making me want to run for a snifter of Scotch or Bourbon to complement this interesting change.
The profile of the Vault cigar is robust and full-bodied, but without the strong black pepper character of many full-bodied smokes. At the halfway mark, the cigar returned to its more loamy character, but it was slightly different than the black earth nature in the first third. The cedar and oak aspects diminished, reduced by a taste of leather. The final stages of the cigar were marked by hints of mild pink peppercorns. From beginning to end, the draw was on the money and the burn slow and even.
I really appreciated that for such a robust cigar, it had no tar buildup, smoking clean and dry until I could no longer hold it. Throughout the smoke, the slight creaminess of the book-rolled filler played perfectly off the more intense binders and colorado rosa wrapper. The flavor and construction of my samples were absolutely consistent. As I understand, the blends of the four sizes are identical, so don’t hesitate to try your favorite size – particularly if you can’t find the limited release Corona Gorda.
5 5/8″ x 46
Binder: Jamastran Honduras & Ometepe, Nicaragua
Filler: Estelí and Condega, Nicaragua
Made in: Nicaragua (Plasencia Factory)
|Tad Gage is the author of the best selling Penguin Books "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars," in its second edition. The book has sold over 40,000 copies worldwide, in three languages, and is available in stores and online distributors. Tad has made cigar connoisseurship accessible to beginners and veteran cigar smokes alike. He is delighted to answer questions through CigarChronicles.com. Just comment below.|