Had the 2020 PCA Convention & Trade Show happened, it would have been the sixth for Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, the company launched by Steve Saka in 2015.
In that time, Saka has released several full lines, line extensions and several limited editions and store exclusives, seemingly checking every box on the cigar company startup to-do list.
As with every company, along the journey to those finished products, Saka amassed a collection of test blends and prototypes, or what might be collectively known as samples. So he turned them into their own line.
Saka launched the line in March 2017 as a way to give consumers a glimpse into his blending process by way of something he said that so many people covet: samples of blends, or muestras as they are known in Spanish.
“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,” Saka said. “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.”
Some of the cigars released in the line so far have backstories; the #NLMTHA was Saka’s concession to those who wanted him to make a lancero, with a name that stands for me now leave me the hell alone. Nacatamale was a nod to a breakfast dish that is iconic in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras, while the Unicorn was the result of his attempt to do “everything physically possible to spend as much money and effort as is humanly possible” to produce an “ultra-premium” limited edition release, including hand cutting the molds used to shape the cigar.
In the case of the most recent Muestra Saka release, Unstolen Valor, the most notable thing is that it isn’t Saka’s creation. Rather, it is the work of Raul Disla, the production manager at Nicaragua American Cigars S.A. in Estelí, a busy and fairly well-known factory that produces some of Saka’s lines, including Mi Querida, Todo Las Dias, Umbagog, Frog Juice, and Red Meat Lovers.
It becomes the fifth cigar in the Muestra de Saka line, and the first not to be made at the Joya de Nicaragua factory.
- Muestra de Saka Exclusivo (6 x 52) — $17.95 (Box of 7, $125.65)
- Muestra de Saka Nacatamale (6 x 48) — $17.95 (Box of 7, $125.65)
- Muestra de Saka Unicorn (6 1/4 x 60) — $100 (Coffins of 1, $100)
- Muestra de Saka #NLMTHA (7 x 38) — $17.95 (Boxes of 7, $125.65)
- Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor (6 x 52) — $17.95 (Boxes of 7, $125.65)
As Saka tells the story, he challenged Disla to make some blends on his own, with no direction or guidance from anyone. The cigars were only to be personally satisfying and created without consideration of the costs or opinions of others. “I was curious to see him be a ligador without any constraints,” Saka wrote, noting that Disla had spent his career blending for others, with his career including stops with the Cuevas and Toraño families, Dunhill, the Nica Habano factory, and A.J. Fernandez before landing at Nicaragua American Cigars.
Disla did just as Saka asked, presenting him with four blends. When the time came to pick the one that would be released, they disagreed on which one it should be. Saka’s pick—the one known simply as Blend U—was ultimately selected and began shipping to retailers in early May 2020.
The winning blend is a Nicaraguan puro that is offered in a 6 x 52 toro vitola priced at $17.95. Each cigar comes in its own coffin, with seven coffins per box.
- Cigar Reviewed: Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor
- Country of Origin: Nicaragua
- Factory: Nicaragua American Cigars S.A.
- Wrapper: Nicaragua
- Binder: Nicaragua
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Length: 6 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 52
- Vitola: Toro
- MSRP: $17.95 (Box of 7, $125.65)
- Release Date: May 7, 2020
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor comes in unfinished wood coffins as well as cellophane, meaning there is a bit more ceremony and procedure to get to the cigar. The ribbon foot band slips off without issue, and when I have the cigar ready for smoking I’m greeted by a fairly dark, meaty brown wrapper that has an oily texture on the fingers, prominent vein structure and what feels and looks like a bit of toothiness, even though I don’t always get a corresponding physical sensation on my fingers based on what I’m seeing. The cigar is rolled firmly, showing consistency from head to foot as well as just a bit of give. Everything looks very good, especially the consistently well-constructed heads. The foot offers an aroma that is sweeter than I would have thought, smelling like a cool meat marinade at first. It’s not as sweet as teriyaki or thick as hoisin, and there’s a bit of pepper as well, all of which makes it both appealing and challenging to dissect. From there it moves into a damp earth with some fresh black pepper. Air moves without issue on the cold draw, with a flavor that is a familiar taste of drying tobacco, black pepper, a bit of steak tartare. It’s enjoyable but hardly comparable to the depth and complexity of the aroma.
The Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor starts off with a bit of pepper mixed in with a chewy meatiness that hangs to that somewhat sweet marinade from the cold draw. There’s a bit more pepper—or maybe a bit more separated pepper— to be found through retrohales, though I wouldn’t call them overpowering. Out of the gate, the cigar is seemingly in no hurry to burn quickly, the burn line slowly plodding its way up the cylinder and doing what it can to deliver the most tingle and flavor from each puff. While I get some sense of this in the early puffs, by the end of the first third, I’m beginning to pick up a bit of understated refinement from the Unstolen Valor; while it’s not lacking in flavor or pepper, it’s seemingly not trying to do be or do too much, but rather just let the tobacco do its thing. That means some moist earthiness, peppercorns, and slightly varied manifestations of that peppery flavor. Construction is great, the draw is smooth, and the burn line generally even save for a quick touchup to get things evened out. Flavor and body sit between medium-plus and medium-full, while strength is medium but seemingly building.
As the Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor moves into its second third, my mind becomes preoccupied that something with the flavor is going to start changing like the pepper is going to really brighten up, the base flavors will shift, or just something will happen. However, the cigar stays pretty much right where it is, and while that means I don’t have lots of words to jot down, one phrase does stand out: consistently enjoyable. At the midway point, my mind returns to the thought I had at the end of the first third, that this cigar is simply performing without trying to be flashy. It’s a solid medium-plus in flavor, driven but not dominated by pepper atop a juicy, meaty base. The pepper in the profile feels like it is leaving a more lasting tingle now, though I wouldn’t it’s been an issue thus far, rather it’s just offering a bit more.
The final third sees the Unstolen Valor begin to wake up a bit, as a bright mix of black and white pepper provides a newfound tingle on the front half of the tongue, making me think more of peppercorns than ground pepper from a shaker. If the physical sensation had been noticeable earlier, it’s now unmistakable. The earthiness also wakes up a bit, becoming more present on the palate, coating it with richness and approachable density. In the final inch or so, there’s a bit more smokiness from the flavor, giving it a robust and flavorful profile that is the most vibrant it has been. The cigar finishes up very close to full bodied, if not outright full bodied depending on the sample and one’s own strength scale. Body and strength are also close to full. Construction remains very good if not near perfect.
- Steve Saka added a biography about Raul Disla on his Facebook page that is definitely worth reading to understand his journey through the cigar industry.
- Raul Disla is the brother of Esteban Disla, the general manager of the Fabrica de Tabacos Nica Sueño, as well as co-owner and co-founder of Nica Sueno SA. He is also the brand developer and owner of Guáimaro.
- The name of the cigar was originally supposed to be Stolen Valor, a term used for when a person claims military service of accomplishment without actually having done so. Saka decided to change the name since he was fully crediting Disla with the cigar’s creation.
- Based on some early sightings online, there was said to be at least seven vitolas of the Muestra de Saka line at one point, though those initial images did not include Unstolen Valor, nor did it include #NLMTHA.
- This whole line uses foot ribbons, and I’m glad to say that at least on the three Unstolen Valors that I smoked, removing them caused no damage.
- There’s a decent amount of nicotine strength from the Unstolen Valor, though I would say that only one had me really feeling any lingering effects.
- The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time was two hours on average.
- Update (June 17, 2020) — Updated pricing after a representative from Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust informed halfwheel of changes.
- Correction (June 18, 2020) — Steve Saka clarified a few details of the backstory, specifically that there wasn’t a specific number of blends that he requested created, and that the original intention wasn’t to create a release for the Muestra de Saka line, but rather for a future release by Disla. This review initially indicated that Saka requested four blends for the project. I regret the error. —PL
- Site sponsors Cigar Hustler, Corona Cigar Co., Famous Smoke Shop and JR Cigar carry the Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor.
There are times when a cigar will be described as having "a lot to offer," which I have generally interpreted as being a lot of flavor transitions and complexity. Yet in the case of the Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor, I found myself thinking that this cigar has a lot to offer, even though it doesn't necessarily run the gamut of tastes and aromas. Rather, it performs with the grace and confidence of a single malt Scotch or a USDA Prime steak. It knows it doesn't need to try and offer every flavor, because the ones it does offer are simply that good. While this may not be the cigar or profile for everyone, if given the chance it should do nothing but impress you.