I don’t know which celebrity would surprise me most if they were to announce that they were getting into cigars, but there was recently one who caught my attention: Guy Fieri.

The celebrity chef, restaurateur and TV personality is known for his high energy personality and vast restaurant empire, some of which serve headline-grabbing, interestingly named dishes such as trash can nachos. His website lists 16 different restaurant brands, many with multiple locations both in the U.S. and internationally. The brands also extend to airports, shopping malls, sports venues and cruise ships. He also has a line of wines and tequila among his ventures.

And now, he has a cigar. Two, actually.

In early January 2022, photos of Fieri with Erik Espinosa and members of the Espinosa Premium Cigars team began circulating on social media, leading to speculation that there might be a project in the works. There was, as Fieri partnered with Espinosa and Hector Alfonso Sr. at Espinosa Premium Cigars to blend the cigars, which then got made at AJ Fernandez’s San Lotano factory in Ocatal, Nicaragua.

“Guy’s a cigar guy, loves to smoke, and is super excited about this project,” said Erik Espinosa in a press release. “We are very excited with the level of enthusiasm Guy has brought to this project, and we are both looking forward to getting out there and promoting this brand.”

The cigars don’t use Fieri’s name, but rather Knuckle Sandwich, a phrase that has long been associated with him and which he filed a trademark for in August 2021 to use on cigars. There are two blends, and both use Nicaraguan tobacco for the binder and the filler. The Knuckle Sandwich Maduro maduro uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra maduro wrapper, wears a red foot ribbon and comes in black boxes, while this cigar, the Knuckle Sandwich Habano, uses an Ecuadorian habano wrapper, gets a black foot ribbon and comes in red boxes.

Both blends are offered in the same three sizes, though the maduro line is more expensive with each cigar 45 cents more expensive.

  • Knuckle Sandwich Habano Robusto J (5 x 52) — $12.50 (Box of 20, $250)
  • Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R (5 5/8 x 46) — $11.50 (Box of 20, $230)
  • Knuckle Sandwich Habano Toro H (6 x 54) — $13.50 (Box of 20, $270)

The letters that appear after the vitola names are nods to significant people in Fieri’s life.

Just as they were being previewed in late February at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach, Fla., the cigars began arriving at stores ahead of their originally scheduled early March release date. Fieri has already been doing in-store events in support of the Knuckle Sandwich, and representatives from Espinosa Premium Cigars said he will keep doing them, fitting the visits to stores in amongst his TV filming schedule.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: San Lotano
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Habano)
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 5/8 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 46
  • Vitola: Corona Gorda
  • MSRP: $11.50 (Box of 20, $230)
  • Release Date: February 2022
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

It feels like the black ribbon and the black background of the band make the Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R look a bit darker than it might actually be. It’s a darker than medium shade of brown, and while it has a matte finish to my eye, the wrapper has a bit of oiliness for my fingers. The vein structure is small in size but average if maybe a tick more than average in quantity. The cigar is firm without much give, and appears to be well rolled, though one sample has a bit of mottling and an odd cut of the head that detracts a bit from the visual appeal. The foot has aromas of slightly damp firewood that invites a heartier sniff and rewards the nostrils with a respectably potent black pepper. There is also just a bit of dehydrated fruit sweetness, initially making me think of green apple before evolving into mango and then a mix of assorted fruits. It must be said that this is very much an accent note at most, rather than a core aroma, as I don’t want it to seem like the aroma is overly fruity. The cold draw can be a bit more open than I would have expected or preferred, stopping short of what I would call wide open at its loosest. The flavor is a bit drier here, holding onto the firewood while decreasing the pepper a touch and eliminating the sweetness.

It’s only about a quarter of an inch before the Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R hits my palate with the signature wood and black pepper combination that comes from a Nicaraguan habano cigar, particularly one that comes from Espinosa. What is a bit more surprising is the creaminess that comes along right after that, as well as the copious amounts of smoke that the cigar is putting off. Between the quantity of smoke and the transition from creaminess through the woods and pepper and then the lingering tingle both on the palate and in the nose, it is almost a wave of flavor hitting my senses. The retrohale is bright and peppery, though lighter in body than what the palate gets, which helps it cut through but also gives it a bit more sharpness. The smoke production tapers off a bit after the first clump of ash drops off right after the picture was taken, though I’d say it’s now average in quantity as opposed to abundant. With that change, the creaminess seems to taper off as well, and the flavor backs off a bit on the whole as well, though there is still a decent amount of lingering pepper. In the first cigar, the burn line goes askew just a bit to have me thinking of a touch-up, but otherwise the Knuckle Sandwich has smoked well thus far. In particular, the draw smooth and seems to have calibrated itself after being lit.

With the intensity of the flavor dropping off just a bit, I find myself retrohaling fairly often as the second third gets underway, as the pepper stays fairly intense through the nose. It’s neither overpowering nor a heavy pepper, but rather a crisp and tingling sensation that has a bit of dry wood and just the slightest bit of creaminess in the background. Given how mild the dried fruit sweetness was in the aroma, I’m not surprised that it hasn’t shown up in the profile, though with this slight mellowing of the core flavors, it seems like this would be an opportune time for it to appear. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, but that’s not a knock on the profile as it is still quite enjoyable and easily on par with what I’d expect from a cigar wit habano in its name. The final puffs of this section are almost an exact copy of the first ones, giving my palate a mellow yet flavorful coating of earth, wood and black pepper, living up to my expectations from a blend such as this. For my palate, the cigar is now medium-plus, though I could see it being more than that to someone who isn’t as fond of or experienced with this kind of profile. Body is medium and strength is medium-minus. Construction and combustion have been fantastic and problem-free, though the ash is a bit more fragile than I would like.

I thought that the black pepper was beginning to build as the second third came to a close, and the start of the final third confirms that notion. It doesn’t have the same effect as it did earlier, as it now seems a bit more charred and biting on the palate as it lingers on the tastebuds longer, as well as begins to hit the back of the throat with some vigor. It’s a bit more of a condensed version of what the first third offered, though with the additional physical sensation. Because of that, I find myself going back to retrohales, which have also become a bit punchier with more wood and pepper, but it doesn’t have any of the harshness. The harshness hangs over the profile in such a way that makes it tough to enjoy fully; while the initial flavor is still good, the finish hits with a heavy ashiness and char. While the Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R doesn’t feel strong in terms of nicotine, it is definitely stronger when it comes to flavor intensity, finishing medium-full, while body is medium-plus and strength is medium. Construction remains very good.

Final Notes

  • I generally like the bands, though I’m not quite sure if they convey the message I would want them to. I’m fine with there not being a direct mention of Fieri on the band, but it also makes it look like this is an Espinosa release, which it sort of is. Espinosa blended it and is selling the cigar, yet during the initial conversations about the cigar, it was positioned to me as a standalone project.
  • Saturday Night Live has done a parody of Fieri a number of times, and I hate to say that it is Bobby Moynihan’s portrayal of him that comes to mind when I think of Fieri. While I’m sure I’d feel a bit different if it were me being parodied, I do think it is an honor and sign of cultural relevance to have an SNL actor portray you.
  • I recently read an article on AtlasObscura.com where noted documentarian Ken Burns said that he has a great admiration for Guy Fieri and that he is obsessed with Fieri’s show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
  • Erik Espinosa and his cigars was actually in an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
  • It was recently announced that Fieri will be opening a restaurant in downtown Phoenix next to Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be part of a two-story sports betting venue.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was reported by Food & Wine that Fieri partnered with the National Restaurant Association to raise nearly $25 million for restaurant workers.
  • I have not yet smoked the Knuckle Sandwich Maduro, so I can’t do a head-to-head comparison. I also haven’t smoked the other sizes of the Knuckle Sandwich Habano, though after smoking the Corona Gorda R, I’m certainly interested in smoking the other blend and sizes.
  • I didn’t find any of the three samples to hit me with much nicotine strength, though the change in the profile in the final third has a pretty lasting impact.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 30 minutes on average.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co.Cigar HustlerCorona Cigar Co. and  Famous Smoke Shop carry the Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R.
88 Overall Score

Celebrity cigars have often gotten a bad reputation, and generally for good reason: the flavor profiles can be uninspired and the post-launch enthusiasm can certainly be disappointing. While I can't speak to the latter in this case, the profile is certainly on par with cigars from Espinosa, which I think has developed a solid reputation when it comes to using habano tobacco in its blends. The profile of the Knuckle Sandwich Habano Corona Gorda R offers the signature flavors you'd expect from this blend, meaning a hearty amount of earth and pepper, a bit of wood and some occasional creaminess, and while not the most complex profile, it is quite enjoyable through the first two thirds. As noted above, the final third of each sample saw the profile get a bit rougher, but none reached the point where I would have put down the cigar abnormally early. Consider me impressed by the Knuckle Sandwich Habano and consider adding it to your cigar shopping list.

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Patrick Lagreid

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 previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.