Anniversaries in the cigar industry tend to have a lot of words written about them on this site; I have made mention that I struggle to keep track of how many cigars we’ve smoked and stories we’ve written about such events.
But this cigar isn’t the result of an anniversary but rather what looks like a bit of a reboot. In 2022, Tony Bellatto announced that he was launching a new company—Bellatto Premium Cigars—a venture he was entering with his father, Gene, as a partner.
Prior to the launch of Bellatto Premium Cigars, Tony Bellatto became known in the cigar industry for a couple of ventures. His La Barba cigar brand debuted in 2013, announced via his website, TattooedSommelier.com. It was through that announcement that many people got introduced to an apparently very busy Bellatto, who at the time of the announcement was also a WSET-certified sommelier, a wine instructor at Youngstown State University, owner of The Havana House in Ohio, and a columnist for Cigars in Review magazine.
The La Barba line came out of the Wynwood Cigar Factory in Miami, a facility created by Christian Eiroa and Robert Caldwell to produce exclusive cigar blends rolled by cigar makers from Honduras.
Caldwell and Bellatto would go onto work together on other projects, most notably the Lost&Found project that released cigars found in the aging rooms of cigar factories, before pivoting to releasing new creations. Caldwell’s Down&Back LLC would distribute Bellatto’s La Barba lines.
With the new company announced in March 2022, it soon came time to announce the company’s first line, and in June 2022, Bellatto announced Knockaround.
The Knockaround line was created to produce a wallet-friendly, everyday cigar line.
“It’s for me, honestly, and for my friends first-and-foremost, but also for the people I know who don’t want to sacrifice in quality or experience, but ultimately want something that can fit in your regular rotation without breaking the bank,” said Bellatto.
To do that, Bellatto turned to Tabacalera William Ventura and created a blend that uses an Ecuadorian habano wrapper, a Dominican habano binder and fillers from the Dominican Republic. It is offered in three sizes with names that combine the common vitola name and the dimensions of the vitola:
- Knockaround Robusto 550 (5 x 50) — $7 x 50 (Box of 20, $140)
- Knockaround Toro 650 (6 x 50) — $8 (Box of 20, $160)
- Knockaround Gordo 660 (6 x 60) — $9 (Box of 20, $180)
The Knockaround line began shipping to retailers in July, one of several cigars that the company showed off at the 2022 PCA Convention & Trade Show.
- Cigar Reviewed: Knockaround Robusto 550
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: Tabacalera William Ventura
- Wrapper: Ecuador (Habano)
- Binder: Dominican Republic (Habano)
- Filler: Dominican Republic
- Length: 5 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 50
- Vitola: Robusto
- MSRP: $7 (Box of 20, $140)
- Release Date: July 2022
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The Knockaround Robusto 550 looks like any number of cigars I have smoked or come across, both from a vitola perspective and by the evenly tanned wrapper that has a handful of veins and occasionally visible seam lines. While there is some occasional bumpiness on the nutty brown leaf, the cigar looks to be rolled well on the whole, while a squeeze reveals that it is on the firm side with just a little bit of give. The aroma off the foot is soft, light and fairly neutral, not leaning too far in any one direction. In terms of specific aromas, I could make the case for some white bread, creaminess and the collective aroma of the apple display at the grocery store. The cold draw is smooth with just a touch of resistance, while the flavor isn’t very forthcoming with specific flavors. What it does have it is on the dry side and gives my tongue a bit of a tingle, with a bit of pepper, dry pretzels and dry lumber.
The draw of the Knockaround Robusto 550 is smooth and easy enough to produce a mouthful of smoke right from the get-go, which delivers a fairly mild and dry profile that has a bit of toast and light wood guiding things, accented by just a touch of pepper finishing off the initial offerings. It’s a profile I feel like I have experienced a number of times before, though I can’t pinpoint a specific cigar that it tastes like, but on paper, it certainly compares to a lot of cigars. After some initial puffs that are on the milder side, the profile ticks up in intensity a bit, not necessarily by way of any new flavors, just more vibrance from what has been offered. That said, the change makes it feel like there’s more pepper than earlier, or at least that it is more equal in its impact. Retrohales show that same progression, having started fairly tame and finishing the first third with a good bit more punch. It’s in these changes that I begin to get the bullet point flavors of Ecuadorian habano wrappers, namely black pepper and a clean, bright wood. There are some spots where I get a sourdough toast flavor, which while I enjoy it, seems incongruent with where the cigar is heading. Flavor is just shy of medium, body is medium, and strength is mild. Construction thus far has been very good and problem-free.
The second third starts by riding the increased black pepper note, which is now leading the profile and fairly bright both on puffs and retrohales. It’s not long into the second third when something begins to change in the profile that doesn’t sit well on my palate. The change is odd enough that I can’t really describe it, other than that the sourdough and wood from earlier aren’t delivering the kind of flavors they did in the first third and seemed to have turned against my taste buds. The pepper is still pretty enjoyable, and I get a bit of campfire from the aroma as the cigar rests and I try and figure out how to best describe this change. Across the three samples, one takes a real nosedive, one takes a bit less, and the third cigar only shows a bit of a change, but enough to be noticeable. The end of this section brings about a bit of sharpness from the pepper while the other funkiness begins to settle down and some creaminess joins the mix for the first time. One sample also picks up a bit of smoky earth, which meshes quite well with the pepper. Flavor is medium-plus, body is medium, and strength feels shy of medium. While the flavor struggled in this section, construction didn’t, as the burn line stays sharp, the draw stays smooth, and smoke production remains very good.
The final third of the Knockaround Robusto 550 sees the flavor largely get back on track. While the creaminess has morphed to become a bit drier and almost powdery, it still does a good job softening the overall profile and providing a launchpad for the other flavors. In the one cigar that doesn’t have as much of the change in the second third that I found rather unenjoyable, it seems to have delayed that shift into the final third, dashing hopes that I may have found one cigar that dodged what has been my main complaint with the cigar. In the other two cigars, and when the one gets back on track, the cigar gets back to the dry wood and black pepper that it showed earlier and that I would expect from a cigar with a habano-forward blend. There are puffs in the final third where the cigar really leans into those flavors, which elicits a bit of a bite on the edges of my tongue, but is still fairly enjoyable for a cigar trying to work its way into my everyday rotation. Flavor finishes medium-plus, body is medium-plus, and strength is medium. I feel like I haven’t given the construction enough credit, but it is very good if not essentially flawless. I haven’t so much as looked at my lighter since lighting the cigars, and can’t come up with a complaint in this department.
- While I’m not crazy about how the Knockaround band photographs, I do like the overall design and that the design is embossed and offers a bit of texture.
- I would never claim to have seen every cigar band or even the majority of them, but I’m a bit surprised that the idea for a shoe print has taken this long to appear on a band.
- At the 2022 PCA Convention & Trade Show, Tony Bellatto announced that there would be a Knockaround Connecticut and a Knockaround Maduro version added, though he did not specify when those would be available.
- As mentioned above, Bellatto Premium Cigars produces a number of its lines at Tabacalera William Ventura, which suffered a massive fire in September, destroying the factory. In early October, it was announced that Bellatto would be discontinuing its La Barba Purple and La Barba Red lines. In the meantime, many lines have moved production to the Ventura family’s smaller factory, El Maestro.
- In case you’ve seen the new Bellatto Premium Cigars logo and thought you’d seen it before, it appears to be largely inspired by the Dunhill logo.
- I didn’t find much nicotine strength in the Knockaround Robusto 550, and certainly not enough to have me feeling funky or looking for the white sugar.
- The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time was one hour and 30 minutes on average.
The Knockaround Robusto 550 is a cigar that seemed destined to fit the billing that Tony Bellatto gave it at the 2022 PCA Convention & Trade Show, when he described the sub-$10 line as an everyday cigar, which is generally interpreted to mean a cigar that delivers good performance without costing a lot of money. For two of its thirds, that’s pretty much what the cigar does, with a habano-forward profile but one that is limited by the use of that varietal for the wrapper and binder. The trade-off that any potential smoker of the Knockaround Robusto 550 will have to make is whether the rough spots that the cigar offers is worth everything else it offers.