While it does not exactly happen every day, there have been a number of retailers or people that have worked on the staff of a cigar retailer who have gone on to start cigar brands of their own. Some have found success in the industry—like Dion Giolito of Illusione fame—while others have eventually faded into obscurity.
Ponce Cigar Co. was founded in 2021 by Frank Vazquez, who spent six years working for Corona Cigar Co., a retailer with locations in Orlando and Tampa. The brand’s debut release in May of last year was the appropriately named Ponce San Andrés, a 5 1/2 x 54 robusto extra vitola that is made with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper covering an American broadleaf binder and fillers from the Villa González, Dominican Republic; Estelí, Nicaragua and the United States.
In April, the company announced its newest creation: Ponce Sumatra. As the name implies, the blend on the newest release is rolled with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper covering an internal blend made-up of a corojo binder that is also grown in Ecuador as well as filler tobaccos that include Dominican negrito piloto cubano, Dominican olor viso, and a Nicaraguan HVA hybrid grown in Condega.
According to the company, bundles of the Ponce Sumatra started shipping to retailers in May, but boxes of all three sizes are scheduled to start showing up at stores later this month. As is the case with the other creations under the Ponce brand, the Ponce Sumatra is made at MJ Frias Cigar SRL in Tamboril, Dominican Republic.
There are currently three different vitolas in the Ponce Sumatra line:
- Ponce Sumatra Robusto (4 7/8 x 50) — $11.50 (Box of 11, $126.50)
- Ponce Sumatra Corona Largo (6 1/4 x 46) — $11.75 (Box of 11, $129.25)
- Ponce Sumatra Toro Corto (5 1/2 x 54) — $12 (Box of 11, $132)
- Cigar Reviewed: Ponce Sumatra Corona Largo
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: MJ Frias Cigar SRL
- Wrapper: Ecuador (Sumatra)
- Binder: Ecuador (Corojo)
- Filler: Dominican Republic (Negrito Piloto Cubano & Olor Viso) & Nicaragua (HVA Hybrid)
- Length: 6 1/4 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 46
- Vitola: Corona Gorda
- MSRP: $11.75 (Box of 11, $129.25)
- Release Date: May 2022
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The wrapper on the Ponce Sumatra is slightly darker then I have come to expect from a Sumatra leaf, and while there is some sandpaper roughness to it when I run my finger down the length, I also notice the presence of a small amount of oil. A further physical inspection reveals a large soft spot on all three samples located just under the main band and the cigars are all quite spongy when squeezed. Aromas from the wrapper are fairly light and include generic wood, earth, leather, grass, coffee beans and milk chocolate sweetness. However, the scents emanating from the foot are another matter: strong notes of dark chocolate, Fruity Pebble cereal sweetness, roasted espresso beans, hay, leather and a touch of citrus. After a straight cut, the cold draw includes strong flavors of grass, powdery cocoa nibs, leather tack, gritty earth, cedar, caramel sweetness and a vegetal note.
One sample starts out with a significant blast of spice on my tongue, but the other two are noticeably more restrained in that regard. Having said that, all three cigars feature basically the same flavors at first, specifically espresso beans and caramel sweetness along with a bit of black pepper. After about eight puffs, the main flavor combination in the profile consisting of the aforementioned espresso beans along with cocoa nibs takes shape, followed by gritty earth, cedar, leather, hay, potato chips and cinnamon. In addition, the retrohale has a massive amount of marshmallow sweetness along with a noticeable—but far from overwhelming—amount of black pepper. Flavor starts off with a bang at a solid medium and the body ends the first third just under medium, but the strength lags behind at mild plus. In terms of construction, the draw and smoke production is giving me no issues, but one sample does need a couple of quick corrections in my lighter.
As the second third of the Ponce Sumatra Corona Largo begins, the main flavors shift a bit: the cocoa nibs note has become stronger, while the espresso beans flavor has been replaced by a distinct cashew flavor. Secondary notes include the aforementioned espresso beans as well as cinnamon, leather, earth, sourdough bread and a touch of floral that comes and goes. In addition, there is still plenty of marshmallow sweetness on the retrohale, but the amount of black pepper has increased slightly as well. Flavor bumps up to medium-plus, body is at a sold medium and the strength has increased slightly to just under medium. Once again, there is plenty of smoke from the foot of each cigar and the draw is excellent, but two samples need minor touchups to get them back on track.
The cashews flavor takes the top spot in the Ponce Sumatra during the final third—but that same powdery cocoa nibs note is not far behind—while additional flavors of earth, sourdough bread, citrus peel, hay, espresso beans and cinnamon round out the profile. Marshmallow sweetness continues to dominate the retrohale, while the amount of black pepper remains about the same compared to the second third. Flavor manages to hit a point just over the full mark, while the body and strength both end at a solid medium by the end of the cigar. In terms of construction, one sample needs a single correction just before the end, but the smoke production and draw on all three cigars continue on their excellent paths until I put the nubs down with less than an inch remaining.
- In April, Ponce announced that it had added distribution in Turks & Caicos.
- This cigar is a bit longer than a classic Corona Gorda vitola, which historically has measured 5 5/8 x 46.
- There was a noticeable bulge protruding from one of the samples I photographed in the studio, which was prominent enough to clearly see when viewing it from above.
- As I mentioned above, the three samples I smoked featured at fairly large soft spots that was located in the same location on the front of the cigar just under the main band. Having said that, I did not notice that they caused any noticeable issues with the burn or the draw that could be directly attributed to it.
- For some reason, the ash on the cigars I smoked tended to fall off the end of the cigar before it reaches even half an inch long, so be ready for it.
- This is one of those blends that gets very bitter very quickly if you puff too fast or too hard, so my advice is to smoke it a bit slower than normal.
- The profile on my final sample was noticeably less complex than the other two cigars; it was still enjoyable, but the flavors were just not as cohesive or distinct.
- The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time for all three cigars averaged out to a relatively quick one hour and 37 minutes.
- If you would like to purchase any of the Ponce Sumatra cigars, site sponsor Cigar Hustler has them for sale on its website here.
Sumatra-wrapped blends have become a favorite of mine through the years, and the Ponce Sumatra Corona Largo is a great representation of the reason why: the flavors in the profile include a rich combination of espresso beans, cocoa nibs and cashews along with a wonderful marshmallow sweetness on the retrohale. Unfortunately, one sample featured a profile that was noticeably less distinct than the other two—which absolutely affected the final score—and while there were multiple minor corrections needed, the overall construction on all three cigars gave me no major issues. There is a better than average chance that the majority of people reading this review at this moment have never heard of Ponce Cigar Co. until they read this review, but I can tell you that if you are looking for a full-flavored, solidly medium-strength blend, the Sumatra Corona Largo is a winner.