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It’s amazing how a word can stick with a person for one reason or another, for me, one of those words is nacatamale.

I first remember hearing it while visiting Drew Estate’s Nicaraguan factory several years ago, when it started getting uttered with both reverence and craving at some point. Clearly it was a food dish, but exactly what it was seemed to be intentionally left to be a mystery to us visitors.

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A nacatamale is a traditional dish that is found not just in Nicaragua, but Costa Rica and Honduras as well, and which shares several aspects of what one might know as a tamale. A corn masa dough sets the base for the nacatamale, with seasoned pork, rice, potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and olives most commonly used as the filler. There are numerous spins on this of course, though once filled, each nacatamale gets wrapped in plantain leaves to undergo several hours of steaming or pressure cooking.

It’s often served as a breakfast food on Sundays, generally with fresh bread and coffee with milk, and could easily be marked as one of the country’s most signature dishes.

Steve Saka, formerly of Drew Estate and now on his own with Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, used the word for the second size to be released in his Muestra de Saka line, a 6 x 48 grand corona that is a follow-up to the 6 x 52 Exclusivo released in March 2017.

For Saka, the Muestra de Saka project stemmed from trying to incorporate an older style of blending, with the filler tobacco coming from the same farm, in this case, one in Jalapa, Nicaragua that Saka is keeping a secret.

“For over a century most cigars’ entire filler recipes were comprised of just one farm’s tobacco and any complexity was introduced by extremely careful leaf processing, selection and positioning within the bunch,” said Saka in a press release. “Whereas these days as we have hundreds of ingredients to work and blend with to create interesting and satisfying ligas. So, the challenge was to see if I could make an ‘old farm’ style liga that could hold its own with the modern blends created today. ”

As for the other leaves, the wrapper is an Ecuadorian habano, while the binder comes from Nicaragua. The Muestra de Saka Nacatamale is offered at $15.95 per cigar, or $111.65 for a box of seven, each coming in slide-lid coffins.

Even though this is the second Muestra de Saka release, it’s worth noting that the cigars are not related from a blend standpoint. Saka calls the line one that “reflect(s) the blending machinations of myself,” as the name means Sample of Saka or Saka’s Sample.

He explained that in a bit further detail, saying that “muestras are hoarded and coveted by not only their makers, but by the cigar smokers who seek to catch a glimpse into the cigarmaker’s soul within their smoke. Muestra de Saka is just that. A line of unique blends and vitolas made in extremely limited quantities that reflect the blending machinations of myself. To smoke a Muestra de Saka is to embark upon a journey with me in which I greatly welcome your companionship.”

Another vitola, the Unicorn, has recently been teased on social media, with Saka showing off the 6 1/4 x 60 diademas deluxe and noting that only 1,000 were produced. He added that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll simply smoke them all or sell a few, but wanted to at least clarify what it is before they start showing up in people’s hands. It was also not part of the seven vitolas that were mentioned by the retailer Jack Schwartz Importers.

Saka has previously indicated that while the Muestra de Saka releases are limited, it’s not his intention to make it a one-and-done line.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Muestra de Saka Nacatamale
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Fabrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 48
  • Vitola: Grand Corona
  • MSRP: $15.95 (Boxes of 7, $111.65)
  • Release Date: Nov. 7, 2017
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

It’s sort of a shame that the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale doesn’t have a traditional primary band on it, as the cigar feels a bit naked once the foot band has been removed. That said, it does allow the dark brown wrapper to take center stage, and the oily, slightly mottled leaf does so easily with a bit of sheen, small veins, and clean roll lines. The Nacatamale is rolled firmly but not to the point of being overly hard, while the fan cap is generally applied well. The foot is mellow and meaty at first sniff while the wrapper itself is a bit more meat stick. There’s also some Maraschino cherry in one sample that adds a thick, syrupy sweetness, while another has a touch of smokiness. The cold draw is on the firm side of ideal but still in the sweet spot for air flow, with subtle meatiness alongside generic tobacco.

The first puffs of the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale catch my attention more for the texture of the smoke than for any specific flavor as they are rather soft but multi-surfaced, sort of like cotton candy as it sits on the tongue. Pepper comes along fairly quickly, though it doesn’t overtake the profile, but rather nudges it in a slightly different direction. That is, unless you retrohale the smoke, in which case the pepper gives an all-out shove into a much more lively range, with the pepper bright and biting in the nostrils, backed by a bit of vanilla sweetness. Factoring out the retrohale’s influence for a few puffs, the Nacatamale is cool and just the slightest bit peppery on the tongue, flirting with a bit of nuttiness and spiciness at times, the latter reminiscent of red chilis. It’s a mild sensation at best, as I’m fairly surprised by the cigar’s tameness in the first third. Other than a draw that I could describe as just the slightest bit tight, there’s no issues with the burn or smoke production.

Retrohales are still the punchiest aspect of the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale, a point I bring up since I’m surprised how mellow the flavors are. Given an Ecuadorian habano wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler, I’d expect a bit more muscle from the cigar, but instead I find myself trying to dive into the subtleties, where I find a bit of cool mint that settles nicely on the tongue on mellow samples, with earthy soil standing out on the fuller cigars. The former is a pleasing profile that oozes smoothness, though at the same time almost treads too lightly on the palate, while the latter has character but also some creaminess to cushion it. Leading up to the midpoint, I find the cigar to be a bit less vibrant than I was expecting, as it keeps its nutty and somewhat earthy flavors subdued, with pepper at the edges to provide a bit of tingle on the tongue. The combination of retrohale and puff are where the real magic continues to happen, as they complement each other quite well. Just past the midpoint the flavor starts to develop notes of corn flakes that separate from the others, occasionally getting a bit funky on the palate but far from unpalatable. The Muestra de Saka Nacatamale moves into its final third with some renewed pepper on both the tongue and in the nose, while the burn and draw have both been near ideal.

There’s definitely an uptick in strength at the start of the final third, and I get a bit of earth and a new found chocolate note that starts to emerge. In one sample, the earthiness picks up a metallic edge before taking on notes of sharp notes of lumberyard woods and a bit of smoky campfire, with some more of the mint making occasional appearances. The draw on the first sample seems to tighten up just a bit, with the burn rate slowing commensurately, while the other two slow a bit as well but without the air flow change. There are more subtle pivots in the final inches as the smoke gets chewier and picks up a bit of warm cake donut, with the metallic earth pushed to the finish. The combustion rate continues to creep along, with smoke production slowing at times until the cigar seems to reach its ideal core temperature and the tobacco burns fully, closing out with a bit of chocolate chip sweetness.

Final Notes

  • For some his other releases—Sobremesa, for instance—Steve Saka has been very forthcoming with blend details. Not so much with this cigar.
  • As a frequent retrohaler, it was sometimes hard for me to separate the strength of the pepper through the nose with the relative subtlety of what the tongue picks up. I know I was much more satisfied with the combination than the components on their own.
  • The nicotine levels were on the lower side for most of the cigar, though the final third finishes with a decent punch.
  • I’ve now smoked three more Nacatamales than I’ve eaten nacatamales, at least that I can recall.
  • Joya de Nicaragua, which produces the cigars for Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, advertises on halfwheel.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was two hours and 10 minutes on average.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic CigarCorona Cigar Co., Elite Cigar Cafe (972-661-9136), JR CigarSmoke Inn and STOGIES World Class Cigars carry the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale.
89 Overall Score

Hand me a Steve Saka-blended cigar, and I'm almost certainly going to expect a medium-plus to full bodied blend, and that's what had me initially so perplexed by the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale. While there's plenty of pepper through the nose, it's a much more subdued cigar on the palate, particularly in the first and second thirds. But where there's subtlety, there's often nuance, and the Nacatamale can show that if given the chance. While I won't pretend that I didn't enjoy the most flavorful of the three samples more than the other two—and scored it higher, accordingly—I found the second cigar the most interesting as its subtleties invited the most exploration. To borrow a line I've used a few times before, I'm impressed by the Nacatamale, but more importantly I'm intrigued to smoke a few more to see what else it might have to offer.

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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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