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If you want to spark up an interesting and potentially passionate conversation amongst cigar smokers, bring up the topic of stems in cigars.

Undoubtedly, some people absolutely bristle at the idea of finding a stem in their cigar, particularly at the head where it sits there just tempting one’s willpower not to pluck it out either with your fingers or a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Some consumers take it as a sign of an inferior product, having been told or possibly seen for themselves that stems are generally discarded by factories as part of the cigar making process.

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For the most part, stems do get removed from leaves; about two thirds of the central vein is removed from filler leaves, while binder and wrapper leaves have it removed completely as part of the process of splitting the leaf into two halves. Most of those stems end up somewhere other than in the middle of a cigar, but in the case of the latest cigar from United Cigar Company, they end up smack dab in the middle of the blend.

El Tallo, a single vitola release with a name that translates as the stem, measures 6 x 50 and uses stems that are processed in a unique manner and then cut to fit. Interestingly, the stem-laden filler has its own blend notes. According to the company, the core of the cigar features:

  • 30 percent Dominican Republic (Cuban-Seed)
  • 12 percent Dominican Republic (Olor)
  • 12 percent Sumatra
  • 16 percent Nicaragua (Habano Estelí)
  • 15 percent U.S.A. (Connecticut Broadleaf)
  • 15 percent U.S.A. (Pennsylvania Broadleaf)

They then get wrapped in a Sumatran binder and Ecuadorian wrapper, which gives it the appearance of an otherwise normal cigar. It is produced at Jose Dominguez’s Tabacalera Magia Cubana factory, where the company says it was under development for over five years.

“El Tallo is deceiving to the eye but it is packed with strength, it may be the most full bodied cigar out there and will sneak up on you so be warned,” said Oliver Nivaud, marketing and sales director for United, in a press release.

It’s priced at $2.95 per cigar and comes in paper-wrapped five packs.

  •  Cigar Reviewed: El Tallo
  • Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
  • Factory: Tabacalera Magia Cubana
  • Wrapper: Ecuador
  • Binder: Sumatra
  • Filler: Dominican Republic (Cuban Seed and Olor), Nicaragua (Habano Estelí), Sumatra & U.S.A. (Connecticut Broadleaf and Pennsylvania Broadleaf)
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $2.95 (Packs of 5, $14.75)
  • Release Date: April 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

At first glance, the El Tallo looks like any other unbanded cigar; a toro vitola with a firm, smooth roll, some veins on the tanned wrapper leaf and a well applied cap. However, I’m much more intrigued by the inside of this cigar, though the covered foot prevents me from getting a look, at least on this first cigar. I peel it back a bit on the second sample and the foot appears a bit underfilled, but I can’t say that I think an average cigar smoker would immediately notice anything beyond that. Clipping the cap doesn’t reveal anything too out of the ordinary either; yes, there is a stem to be found but not much different than what I’ve come across in other cigars. It is certainly not a bunched group of stripped down stems, that I can tell you. Otherwise, the cigar looks well rolled, a bit firm to the touch with a wrapper that is generally even in color with some mottling and just a bit of oil. The covered foot offers aromas of basmati rice, toast and dry, dusty earth before switching to a sweeter smell that has some pastry notes to it. There are varying amounts of pepper to be found here; the first cigar had none and the second had enough to induce a sneeze. The cold draw is pretty spot on as far as air flow and gives me an assortment of flavors, from a mandarin orange note to warm cream to more dusty earth before switching into cool dinner rolls.

I’m always eager to experience the initial impression of a cigar, but this one has me feeling a bit of trepidation given what makes up the filler. Fortunately, the first puffs of the El Tallo aren’t terribly different from a profile I’d expect to find in a cigar; somewhat bread-foward and leaning towards sourdough, with a bit of white pepper mixed in as well.  It’s not great by any means, but it’s palatable and again, not radically different, though something tastes unfamiliar at best and just plain off at worst. The ash isn’t much of a clue that the cigar is based around stems, though a couple of strips of ash begin peeling away from the core more so than I’ve seen in most other cigars. Retrohales early on in the cigar are a bit mellower, with cool cream ahead of white pepper. As I knock the first clump of ash, it’s much easier to see the stems that are it in the filler, as they tend to hold on a bit better, revealing what I could equate to a skeleton of tobacco in some instances. The flavor stays fairly consistent; I want to think there is some candy bar toffee beginning to emerge but it’s not fully developed yet. I’d put it at just shy of medium in terms of strength, and medium in terms of flavor intensity. Other than the flowering of the ash, the cigar has burned well so far.

Not a lot has changed about the profile of the El Tallo as it heads into its second third, including my opinion that something about it tastes just a bit off. It’s not overly sour, though it leans that direction and has me thinking of a stab at sourdough bread. There’s also a bit of graham cracker to be found, though with minimal amounts of sweetness. The flowering ash gets more pronounced in the second third, when it looks like strips of tobacco are trying to get away from the core as fast as possible. The combustion rate feels like it slows down quite a bit after the midway point, which is when I begin getting a funky spin on wheat bread, something I’d imagine being marketed as ultra organic and thus not what I think of getting from the local sandwich shop. I’m still not enthralled by the flavor or aroma, but it’s passable. I do notice that I haven’t been retrohaling much, and one at the end of the second third shows me I’m not missing much, mirroring the flavor with a bit more pepper and a dry, almost sour beer finish. The burn is still quite good, while flavor and strength are more aligned at medium-minus. 

The El Tallo still hasn’t changed much, if at all, by the start of the final third, holding pretty tightly onto the profile it established early on and never deviating too far from that point. The third sample shows a fleeting change that drops the sourness in exchange for a mix of citrus, honey and toffee sweetness on top of the wheat bread note, but seemingly as soon as I go back for more it has vanished and the sourness returns. There is a bit more bite developing, first through a really crisp toast flavor that spins into very, dry wood with heat beginning to affect things. While it’s not an inherently off-putting flavor, it never totally endears itself to my palate, and by the final inch rolls around I find myself wanting to just put it down and call it a wrap.

Final Notes

  • The first cigar I smoked for this review—and the one photographed—had a pretty noticeable green spot on it, something that I’ve come to associate more with Cuban leaves.
  • News of the cigar came out on April 1, and let me just say that I don’t think that was the smartest day to release such an announcement.
  • I was really expecting some level of lasting strength from the El Tallo, but I never got it. While the palate gets enough in terms of odd flavors, I’m glad strength wasn’t heaped on as well.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by United Cigar Group.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 40 minutes on average.
77 Overall Score

I'll never be one to stifle innovation, and who knows, maybe cigars made with stems in the filler could become a thing. Unfortunately, El Tallo, while barely serviceable, doesn't seemingly bode well for the idea. The flavor starts sour and never shakes it, let alone develops into something beyond the place from where it started. The construction was by far the best part of the cigar, and while I wouldn't run away from these, I'd have a hard time picking up another one out of anything other than curiosity to see what it tastes like with some extra age or if a new blend came out in hopes of improving on the flavor. Interesting to say the least, but not as engaging as I expect from a cigar.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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