Size: Lonsdale (6 1/4” x 42)
Factory: Tabacalera A. Fuente, Dominican Republic
Wrapper: African Cameroon
If you gaze up at the roof of our factory, El Relo,j or drive on I-4 you will see “Home of Cuesta-Rey Cigars” shining bright.
The brand has a rich history that clings tightly to Tampa and the Newman Family. The brand was started in 1884 when Angel LaMadrid Cuesta opened his first factory in Atlanta. A few years later he was joined in business by Peregrino Rey; Cuesta Rey Cigars were born. In 1893 they followed suit and joined the rest of the premium cigar industry in Tampa, gaining access to Cuban tobacco and skilled workers.
J.C. Newman and his son, Stanford Newman moved to Tampa in 1954 and they became very good friends with Karl Cuesta. After J.C. passed away in 1958, Stanford went on to make his first big business decision without his father: he purchased Cuesta-Rey along with a few other brands such as White Heather and La Unica from Karl Cuesta.
In 1961 the Cuban embargo came and devastated the entire industry in Tampa. Many companies threw in the towel because they did not have access to Cuban tobacco anymore. Stanford went to European tobacco auctions and stumbled across the African Cameroon tobacco. This tobacco proved to be comparable to Cuban tobacco and gave it a run for its money. The Cuesta-Rey #95 was already one of the sizes in the brand’s portfolio before the embargo. It was also the first numbered cigar on the market, named after Chanel #5.
After Stanford learned of Cameroon tobacco, it was decided that the #95 would be the first cigar to use the Cameroon wrapper in the United States. This was a revolution amongst an industry that had been cut off from its prime resource, Cuban tobacco. The Cuesta-Rey #95 saved the handmade, premium cigar industry and became the flagship premium cigar for decades after. They were once made here, but after our partnership with the Arturo Fuente Cigar Company and starting in 1991 every Cuesta-Rey is made at Tabacalera A. Fuente in the Dominican Republic. Cuesta-Rey had great marketing behind it which was part of the reason for its success as an international brand. We even had a Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar at the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until a few years ago. This adaptation is just one of many ways the Newman family has overcome adversity over their 125 years in business.
Now, let’s get into the cigar.
When I look at the cigar the first thing that jumps out at me is the band. It has a clean, simple, vintage look that somehow still works in today’s day and age. Gold and red form the design while a white outline holds everything together. It reminds me of the original Diamond Crown bands. The size is worth noting. You do not see too many true Lonsdale vitolas on the market anymore. It is a size that used to be very popular but with the consumer preference shifting towards larger cigars, it slowly faded away.
After removing the cellophane, I can notice some subtle, smooth veins. There is a good bit of teeth on the wrapper with a decent amount of oils. Overall, the wrapper is a light brown but I can pick up on a faint reddish tint. The wrapper is very uniform and presentable, no imperfections whatsoever. The cigar is firm, with just a little bit of give. I cut it twice with cigar scissors and made a sort of shallow straight cut.
Upon tasting the wrapper I am greeted with a sweet coffee bean flavor with nutty undertones. There is no denying that this is a Cameroon, it carries the characteristics of that tobacco and executes it well. The foot smells a bit like sweet, damp hay. After pulling some cold air through the cigar I pick up some cedar and brighter spices, like coriander. Every smell and taste on the pre light is very crisp. I get the feeling that this is going to be a smooth and flavorful experience. Maybe it is just my preference, but it is worth noting that this size feels great in the hand. It is best described as comfortable and elegant.
When I grab the torch and toast the foot, there is a nice bouquet of flavor. Sweet earth and coffee with a hint of wood catches my attention. The cigar doesn’t require much ignition due to the 42-ring gauge.
After a few mild puffs it is lit and has a good smoke output.
The draw is on the tighter side which works well due to the size. The first flavors I decipher are nuts, cedar, coffee, and bright spices. There is a slight hint of sweetness on the finish that compliments the coffee and earthy flavors. I found the flavor to be medium and intensity to be medium. The retrohale has a little bite but nothing that will make you sneeze. While the smoke has a thick texture there is a leathery feel. If you double puff this cigar you can increase the heat along with the intensity. For half of the first third, I smoke the cigar hotter to get the bite. For the second half, I smoke it slower and at a cooler temp to bring out the pleasant bouquet. I recommend both depending on your palette. The ash is uniform for Cameroon tobacco. A stiff, white ash lingers with noticeable teeth. The burn is very even with no touch ups required. The Cuesta-Rey #95 has a very appealing first third with varying complexity depending on how you smoke.
The second third of the cigar is just as intriguing but changes quite a bit. The cedar and spiciness dissipates. I am getting more coffee, sweet earth, and there is a noticeable hint of hay that crept in. The nuttiness is very prominent. The smoke turns quite buttery and coats the mouth nicely. The aftertaste is awesome: sweet nutty coffee lingers and kept me looking forward to the next puff.
The ash holds together like a steel pipe. Normally with a cigar of this ring-gauge, the ash falls off after less than an inch. I was able to keep it around until I was tired of looking at it. At this point in the cigar, I appreciate the size delivering a lot of flavor from the wrapper. You cannot really find many thinner cigars with a Cameroon wrapper. The Lonsdale vitola really makes you appreciate the flavor. It is easy to see why this cigar became so popular after the Cuban embargo.
By the end of the second third things start to really kick. The retrohale is smooth but very fulfilling. All the flavors are still present. The spice comes back in gradually. This is a product of the blend, not the cigar getting hot and towards the end. At the end of the second third I would like to note that there are no bitter or acrid tastes to be found.
There is something tastefully fulfilling about this cigar.
In the final third I am picking up hints of wood, coffee, nuts, and spices. The finish is sweet, and the smoke is thick and creamy; almost buttery. I expected the sweetness to be gone by this point, but it is still going strong. The blend has changed considerably, sort of like the first third to some degree. By the end of the cigar I was still able to pick up on all the distinct flavors. Usually the end of a cigar can be described as rough, but this was not the case. Everything stayed together nicely, the blend never became unbalanced.
The ash has turned from white to a dark grey. No flakiness or messes to be had when it comes to the ash.
My personal smoke time was about 1 hour and 10 minutes. My goal was to smoke it at an average smoker’s rate. Fast cigar smokers will notice that there is more cedar, wood, and spice to be had while slower smokers will really pick up on the coffee, nuts, and earth. I recommend smoking at different rates during each third to really see what the blend has to offer.
After smoking, I can see why the Cuesta-Rey #95 was such a monumental release. It truly saved the premium cigar industry. The size and band hit the nerves of nostalgia creating a time machine that brings you back to the days when cigars were 35 cents. At the same time the tobacco utilizes the magic that comes with smoking an African Cameroon Wrapper (ACW). In my opinion, there is no other cigar in our portfolio that has such a rich history. After learning the story of Cuesta-Rey you can develop a personal connection to the cigar which makes it so much more enjoyable. The brand is 136 years old and is still relevant today, which is very rare.
I would say the Newman family made Karl & Angel Cuesta proud when they said they would protect the future of the brand. If you are reading this, I encourage you to enjoy this cigar while sharing its story.
A Note to Retailers:
In my experience on the retail side of the cigar industry, sometimes you need more than the knowledge of tobacco to sell a cigar. Most consumers are not going to know the difference between wrappers, binders, and fillers when you are selling a cigar. Sometimes you need to form a connection. Maybe if your customer wears very fragrant perfume or cologne; you can say “the Cuesta-Rey #95 is named after Chanel #5”.
Maybe they are a baseball fan you can tell them about how we had a Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar at Tropicana Field.
If someone loves Cameroon tobacco, tell them about how the #95 had the first Cameroon Wrapper on a premium cigar. This cigar has a story that is rich and touches a variety of lifestyles and consumers. Retailers should add this knowledge to your cigar selling arsenal.
About Nikolaos Psilopoulos
Nik has been working on the retail side of the cigar industry for 5 years. The past 3 years his palette has been experienced enough to formally taste and review cigars for your reading pleasure. At El Reloj he is running our factory store and giving tours. He is a Certified Retail Tobacconist with the PCA’s educational resource, Tobacconist University. You can expect him to further his tobacco knowledge with us at J.C. Newman and encourages visitors to ask all the questions that come to mind.
Outside of the world of cigars, you can find him enjoying the great outdoors or participating in dog sports with his Australian Shepherd.
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