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For good reason, there has been a lot of talk about the past year and a half, and how 2020 and potentially 2021 will be remembered when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the global community.

Of course, there are other calendars and counts for what year it is beside the Gregorian calendar, with one of the best known being the zodiac calendar. Structured around the lunar new year and represented through 12 animals, it is most often referred to as Chinese New Year for its origins in China that date back more than 2,200 years.

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In more recent years, several cigar companies and brands have embraced the Lunar New Year celebrations with the release of limited edition cigars; Davidoff, Maya Selva, VegaFina and Habanos S.A. have all released cigars in connection with the holiday, with Drew Estate joining that group in 2020 when it re-released the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Rat. It was a cigar that was originally created for the Drew Estate lounge at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. However, with 2020 being the Year of the Rat, Drew Estate took advantage of the timing to usher in its own series of zodiac-themed cigars.

In March 2021, the company released the second installment, the Liga Privada Ünico Serie Year of the Ox. It is a 6 x 54 toro gordo, and while the cigar might look like others in the Liga Privada family, the blend is unique, according to a spokesperson for the company. It uses a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, a Brazilian mata fina binder, and fillers from Honduras and Nicaragua.

Unlike the Year of the Rat, which was sold through Drew Diplomat Program retailers, the Year of the Ox would not be available in the U.S.; rather the cigar was released exclusively to the Chinese market through International Marketing Exchange Ltd., which distribute the company’s products in the country. It is priced at $170 for a box of eight cigars—a fitting number given that eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture—which works out to $21.25 per cigar.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Liga Privada Ünico Serie Year of the Ox
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate
  • Wrapper: U.S.A (Connecticut Broadleaf)
  • Binder: Brazil (Mata Fina)
  • Filler: Honduras & Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Toro Extra
  • MSRP: $21.25 (Box of 8, $170)
  • Release Date: March 2021
  • Number of Cigars Released: Undisclosed
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

There are a couple of things about the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox that catch my attention: the gold foil is the first and most obvious, though easily the least worthy of discussion beyond its crinkly texture. The purple and gold foot band is the next on my list; the purple feels new for a Liga Privada release, and the gold used differs just enough from the foil to be noticeable. Finally, the script on the primary band also feels just a bit different from other Liga Privada releases that it makes me wonder about the font selection. After spending a bit processing those things, I assess how to remove the trio. They would seemingly slide off neatly as one unit on the first cigar, though I need the primary band left on for photos. The second sample is much harder to remove, so I start by removing the foot band, then sliding off the foil with the upper band. Once that’s done, I see that the Year of the Ox has a wrapper that is about as dark as any I’ve seen on a Liga Privada; a rich, earthy brown that has a few spots approaching black due to some mottling and color changes around the veins, which can be fairly prominent. There is a bit of toothiness to the leaf as well as some oils, giving the fingers both texture and smoothness. The cigar is rolled firmly with just a bit of give and each sample looks quite good. The foot has a soft and sweet aroma, reminding me of blackberry jam on wheat bread with little to no pepper or spice present. There is also just a bit of cool, mellow meatiness mixed in the aroma as well. Airflow is very good on the cold draw, while the flavor has a bit more of the blackberry jam sweetness with the bread turning lightly toasted. There still isn’t much in the way of pepper, but there is a dry tobacco flavor that tingles the lips a bit.

It has been a while since I have smoked any cigar bearing the Liga Privada band, so I will refrain from suggesting that the Year of the Ox starts off Liga-esque or anything along those lines. It does start off with a Liga-esque amount of smoke though, so that is certainly familiar. Flavor-wise, it’s lighter and mellower than I might have expected, as well as a bit sweeter, as my senses easily make the transition from the blackberry jam flavor and aroma into this slightly lighter expression that feels like it has a very slight metallic undertone and occasional touches of chalk. Pepper is generally subdued but one cigar has a good amount of it right out of the gate. A bit of creaminess and milk chocolate emerge at the one-inch mark, while I find a pleasant amount of nose-tingling pepper via some retrohales. Knocking the first clump of ash off seems to result in the sweetness departing from the flavor, leaving behind a still fairly light profile and body that is picking up a bit of ash and minerals. It’s earthy in a sense, but far from the hearty, robust earthiness I often associate with Liga Privadas and cigars in general. Flavor is medium-plus in intensity, body is medium, and strength is still fairly mild. Construction has been very good; there’s plenty of smoke as expected, the draw is near perfect and the burn line has a slight wave to it but is generally even.

It’s not long into the second third before the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox seems to find its stride, bringing together white pepper, creaminess and a much better expression of the earthiness from the first third into something that is both complex and palate-pleasing. There’s a bit of chalk in the profile that seems a touch unnecessary, but it isn’t throwing off the balance. Retrohales offer a fairly potent hit of white pepper that is backed by a thin creaminess, enough to be noticeable but far from enough to soften the sensation. It’s becoming clearer that this an appreciably milder profile than what I would expect from a No. 9 or T52, or pretty much any Liga Privada release for that matter, and I begin to think about how much this might have blended for the market it was created for as opposed to the American market. The back half of this portion reveals a good bit of the Connecticut broadleaf terroir, meaning more of a dry, chalky earth that finishes with white pepper on the front half of the tongue. Combustion seems to slow down quite a bit in the second third, even though the cigar never goes out or reduces its smoke production. What had seemed like it might be a two-hour cigar earlier now feels like it might push closer to three hours without an uptick in my puffing rate. Flavor is at its most complex in this portion, medium to medium-plus in intensity in a way that coats but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Body follows along in near lockstep, while strength is a tick shy of medium.

While I’ve been waiting for the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox to kick the flavor into a higher gear, or at least one that I’d consider a bit more Liga-esque, it hasn’t yet done so. There is a bit of earthiness still driving the profile, and on occasion, I get some spiciness and red pepper from what I presume to be the Brazilian tobacco. That earthiness is also a bit heartier than it was earlier, and certainly not as driven by what had tasted like the Connecticut broadleaf terroir, which is definitely a win in my book. In the final two inches or so, the flavor warms up, seemingly by way of the proximity of the burning core now being much closer to my lips. While the effect of heat can often be a detractor to the flavor, in this case, it’s a favorable addition, much like eating a hot plate of food is better than eating one at room temperature. While there isn’t much of a change in the flavors being offered, there is now some appreciable depth to them, as everything seems fuller and thicker, and it feels a bit more like what I would expect from a Liga Privada release. At its best, the flavor picks up a bit of nuttiness and bran muffin, a combination that with the earthiness and pepper creates a well-rounded profile. Things go a bit awry when that earthiness gets a bit funky, a delicate balance for the cigar to maintain at times, but a path it navigates admirably. Technical performance remains near perfect, with still plenty of smoke, an easy draw and a generally even burn line. Flavor finishes at medium, body is medium-full, and strength is medium-plus, though I’m wary to see how I feel a few minutes after putting the cigar down.

Final Notes

  • There is a part of me that is surprised by the fact that for a cigar being sold only in China, the bands and SKU sticker are all in English.
  • I would be quite interested to see this cigar with its bands all in Mandarin characters.
  • Unlike some other Liga Privada releases that I have smoked, the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox left me with little to no nicotine buzz. There’s a bit of strength to be found, but it is quite tame on the whole.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel. Drew Estate also sent cigars, but they were not used for this review.
  • Final smoking time was two hours and 40 minutes on average.
88 Overall Score

I don’t like summing up a cigar with the phrase that the score isn’t likely to reflect my thoughts on the cigar, though I feel that is the case here. The Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox is a good, very enjoyable cigar, yet it feels like it is lacking the profile that has made the rest of the Liga Privada line so popular and appealing. On the whole, it is a noticeably milder cigar, lacking some of the heartier, earthier notes of the No. 9 and T52, not to mention other Ünico Series releases. Pepper is a good constant, albeit it a bit lighter as well. What I can say is there was hardly a moment where I didn’t enjoy the Year of the Ox, the few where that was the case was due to a bit more of the Connecticut broadleaf terroir note that gets a bit chalky and slightly metallic for my liking. Construction was stellar, as I rarely even thought about needing a relight or touch-up. If you are a Liga Privada collector or just like smoking cigars that aren’t easy to come by, you should certainly enjoy the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Ox. But if not, I don’t think you’re missing out on much that can’t be easily replaced by other more readily available cigars from Drew Estate.

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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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