Liga Privada Year of the Rat

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Back in March, Drew Estate made a doubleheader of an announcement that sent fans of the brand into a relative tizzy: first, they would be the sponsor of a new cigar lounge at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., the venue that is home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers; second, that there would be a new cigar created just for that lounge, the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Rat.

“Drew Estate was our first choice when partnering with a cigar company,” said Charlie Turano, an evp of the Florida Panthers, via a press release. “What we expected was a cool brand with creative execution; what we didn’t expect was a friendship with a group of people we so admire and with whom we absolutely love spending time.”

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As for the cigar, it’s a 5 1/2 x 46 vitola in the company’s Liga Privada Único Serie. It uses a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, Brazilian binder and fillers from Honduras and Nicaragua. The cigar is offered in 10-count boxes and is priced at $14 per cigar, and is only available for sale at the BB&T Center Drew Estate lounge.

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It also ties in quite well with a name that has become synonymous with both entities; the cigar maker has become known for its use of the word rat in several cigars, including the Dirty Rat and Velvet Rat. The hockey team became associated with the word during the 1995-96 season, as Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room with his stick prior to the team’s home opener, then went on two score two goals with the same stick, leading goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck to coin the term “rat trick,” a play on the familiar term hat trick that describes a player scoring three goals in the same game. Fans quickly took to the rat trick name, throwing plastic toy rats onto the ice to celebrate goals, a trend that continued into the playoffs when fans threw thousands of the items onto the ice and led to the NHL making a rule change that allowed referees to penalize the home team if their fans did something to create an undue delay in game action by throwing objects onto the ice.

The lounge, which features an indoor bar area and humidor as well as an outdoor smoking lounge, officially opened during a private event on April 1.

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  • Cigar Reviewed: Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Rat
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate
  • Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
  • Binder: Brazil
  • Filler: Honduras, Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 1/2 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 46
  • Vitola: Grand Corona
  • MSRP: $14 (Boxes of 10, $140)
  • Release Date: October 2016
  • Number of Cigars Released: n/a
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Rat is an immediately recognizable vitola, checking in at just half-an-inch longer and a ring gauge bigger than the famed Dirty Rat and with a meaty, earthy brown wrapper that has a handful of noticeable veins and mottling but is an otherwise very attractive capa. The head of the cigar features a fantail cap, though the quality varies as one sample is near perfect, one is sloppy and suggests a lazy gathering of the tobacco rather than the product of a skilled artisan, and the third is a serviceable midpoint. Why there isn’t a rat tail head on this cigar is beyond me, though I do understand the precedent that earlier releases have set. The first sample was an incredibly firm cigar, almost hard but stopping short of fully earning that mark, while the second was soft enough that it surprised me by how much give it had. From the foot I get a bit of meaty sweetness, though it’s subtle and hard to pin down a more precise descriptor. The cold draw is smooth and easy, with a bit of sweet chili sauce and other assorted spices leading the way before an orange sauce comes along and pepper gets sprinkled in.

In what should come as absolutely no surprise, the Year of the Rat billows smoke almost immediately upon being lit, with an increase once air is moved through the cigar. It’s not an audacious start flavor-wise, as the smoke is thick and creamy, seeming to want to envelope the mouth with texture more than flavor, though one sample does take on a meaty spin to that note and is a bit more developed as an overall flavor. A retrohale catches the nostrils off guard with big, earthy pepper, a familiar note for Liga Privada smokers but one that might be too much for a more sensitive olfactory system. A bit of creamy peppermint enters the aroma as the burn line approaches the one-inch mark as pepper ramps up in the nose via a retrohale. The ash is dense and white, holding on quite well but not well enough to tempt me to let it go beyond an inch, as a crack in the first sample’s sets the tone for the other two. White pepper is prominent through the nose, and even without a retrohale the smoke gets the olfactory nerves tingling. With a retrohale, it’s a more intense experience, though far from being strong enough to be off-putting but will likely limit the amount you can comfortably pass through your nostrils. At the end of the final third, I find myself struck by how cool the smoke is, almost chilling the tongue at certain points. If there was a cigar to be paired with ice hockey, this certainly seems to fit the bill.

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A thick yet subtle sweetness begins to come in right at the start of the Year of the Rat’s second third, almost fatty and reminiscent of Worcestershire sauce in keeping with the meaty theme of the cigar but too sweet not to acknowledge that component. A bit of chalky earth and campfire enter the equation ahead of the midway point, an enjoyable progression in the flavors and one that pushes the sweetness to the sides if not the memories. The cigar begins to pick up some needed gravitas just ahead of the midway point, getting notes of earth, coffee and charred steak, and gets just a touch rougher in its overall personality, though it can come at the expense of a bit harsher finish that lingers on the tongue. Construction and burn both remain quite solid, with only one cigar showing combustion issues.

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A somewhat cloying sweetness carries the cigar into its final third of the Year of the Rat, and while I hate to venture into the realm of ACID Blondie territory when discussing a Liga Privada release, the thought does cross my mind for a moment. I get a bit of mint chocolate chip ice cream shortly after that, though the cigar doesn’t give up on a rich, earthy base note that has its own lush sweetness as well as some trace gruffness that manifests in varying strengths from sample to sample. A complex aroma that is a mix of chocolate, warm nuts and a smell that I can’t quit place due to its unique mix of savoriness and sweetness comes along to provide one more unexpected turn in the cigar’s journey. There is still plenty of smoke billowing off the cigar, and the burn line for the most part has been even and without concern. Only the heat of the core stops the Year of the Rat from being smoked down even further, as it affects both the flavor and fingers enough to call it quits with about an inch left.

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Final Notes

  • To get what may be an obvious issue out of the way, the name of this cigar would seem to have been reserved by Davidoff for its Zodiac Series, as the Year of the Rat comes around in 2020, meaning a cigar would be released at the end of 2019. The use of the name by Drew Estate is intriguing as the company has twice before asked other companies to refrain from using the word dirty, as the company believed it had established a connection with that word. If any company should be conscientious of names given some public yet reportedly friendly requests to change names, it should be Drew Estate.
  • The use of the name might have been an oversight, though as a counter argument, my colleague Charlie Minato tells me that he was bringing this cigar to share with a friend, though his friend thought he was bringing Davidoff’s Year of the Rat.
  • Given that it would be nearly three years until a Davidoff Year of the Rat would be released, it is worth entertaining the idea that this cigar may not be around as it was designed to commemorate a specific anniversary of a team. Similarly, it’s not for widespread distribution, so confusion down the road might be a moot point.
  • Additionally, whether or not Davidoff ever releases a Year of the Rat is speculative. The company could end the series or FDA regulations could mitigate its release.
  • I asked both companies for comment, and neither offered much of any interest.
  • The primary bands had issues staying glued together, as one came off in shipping and another had an end that wasn’t laid flat. The adhesive also felt more like what you’d find on the back of a Post-It note as opposed to the goma used on many other bands.
  • While it might not be immediately obvious, the paper used to make the Liga Privada bands is fairly unique compared to what else is on the market. Their distinctiveness makes me think of the Fuente Fuente OpusX bands.
  • This cigar literally can’t stop putting off smoke. Even after nearly a minute at rest it was still going strong.
  • Living in an area of the country that is rich with cigar stores—and Drew Estate retailers—I admit that I find it hard to understand what some readers go through in order to get Liga Privadas and other Drew Estate releases.
  • The third sample had some combustion issues in the second half, or if nothing less it seemed like it didn’t develop the same rhythm of the other two cigars.
  • As a tie-in to the “rat trick” craze, Orkin, the pest control company, signed on as a sponsor of the Florida Panthers during the 1995-96 season.
  • The Panthers went onto meet the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals that year, and Avalanche fans would throw rat traps onto the ice to celebrate their team’s goals. The Avalanche completed a 4-0 sweep of the series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup that season.
  • The Panthers have celebrated both the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the rat trick team, and this cigar bears a secondary band that acknowledges the 20th anniversary of that team.
  • The 1995-96 season was the only year the Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals, and has only made the playoffs four times since. It was the club’s third season in existence when they reached the finals.
  • As of late November there was no mention of the Drew Estate Cigar Lounge on the Florida Panthers’ website or the BB&T Center’s website.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 45 minutes on average, though one cigar was closer to two hours.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • The only place to get the Liga Privada Único Serie Year of the Rat is at the BB&T Center Drew Estate Lounge in Sunrise, Fla.
89 Overall Score

As mentioned above, this is a cigar that is incredibly close in size to the Dirty Rat, a very good cigar in its own right and one that has become a bit more readily available to consumers. The Year of the Rat changes dimensions a bit but holds many of the same core flavors, and while it’s a perfectly enjoyable cigar—and one I’d like to enjoy at the BB&T Center someday in conjunction with a Panthers’ game—in my opinion, if you chase this you’re bound to get more out the bands than the cigar underneath compared to its sibling. That said, if you can get some and you’re a big enough fan of the line to pay the premium on the secondary market, or are fortunate enough to get some in person, I can’t say I’d advise you to do otherwise.

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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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