There are a number of boutique cigar companies that fly under the radar for most cigars smokers and Principle Cigars might be one of them, though its owner certainly has some interesting accomplishments.

According to the company’s website, Darren Cioffi not only has one of the largest collections of vintage cigar label art in the world, but he also is the first American to win the Cigar Smoking World Championship and has set records for slow smoking eight times. While engaging in those endeavors, Cioffi began blending and producing his own cigar blends that were given out to friends and family.

That changed in 2013, when Hendrik Kelner Jr.—son of the legendary Hendrik “Henke” Kelner—convinced Cioffi to start producing his creations for an expanded clientele. A number of lines followed, including Frothy Monkey, Bad Principles and the appropriately named Money to Burn, each box of which “is made using an original bond certificate, engraved in 1921.”

However, one of the most interesting creations from the company is the Limited Edition Toro Especial Gold Band, a limited edition line that debuted in 2014 and features a blend that changes with every release. In an email with halfwheel, Cioffi explained some of the background of the series:

We find that small changes (even moving to a new bale) can have a great impact on the finished product when tobaccos that have so much personality are involved.  Additionally, we want to use new and exciting tobacco discoveries and this fluid approach enables us to do so.  In this process, we sometimes produce spectacular blends that don’t really fit in the Aviator Series. Additionally, I don’t say no to small groups of great tobacco that are too minuscule to productionize anywhere else. Gold-Band was the answer to these problems. Always a 6 x 50, always something we think is really exciting. The consumer gets to enjoy something that wouldn’t have made it to market otherwise and at the quality of an Aviator at a slightly lower price point with respect to the vitola.

The 2019 incarnation is actually a rerelease of a blend that was first sold in 2015 and is composed of an Ecuadoran corojo wrapper, a binder made from Dominican leaves grown on Monika Kelner’s farm and filler tobaccos sourced from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. They are being sold in only one vitola—a 6 x 50 toro priced at $10 each and packaged in boxes of 20. According to Cioffi, between 6,000-8,000 of the Limited Edition Toro Especial Gold Band 2019 have already been released, but the company is will soon be producing 3,000 more.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Principle Cigars Limited Edition Toro Especial Gold Band 2019
  • Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
  • Factory: Kelner Boutique Factory
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Corojo)
  • Binder: Dominican Republic
  • Filler: Dominican Republic & Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $10 (Boxes of 20, $200)
  • Release Date: 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: 6,000-8,000 Total Cigars
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The metallic gold band attached to the Principle Cigars Limited Edition Toro Especial is hard to miss and it contrasts nicely with a cinnamon brown wrapper that is slightly toothy to the touch and features an abundance of oil. The cigar has some since give when squeezed and a slight box-press is visible on the foot, although I am fairly certain it is unintentional. Aroma from the wrapper is a combination of barnyard, dark chocolate, cream cheese, earth, leather, almonds and oak while the cold draw brings flavors of coffee cake, sour earth, leather, oak, hay, hibiscus and slight cinnamon.

Starting out, the first third of the newest Principle Gold Band features a dominant dark chocolate note on the palate, while other flavors toasted bread, hay, creamy oak, almonds and espresso beans flit in and out. There is a nice brown sugar sweetness present on the retrohale that combines nicely with some black pepper that is also present, along with some slight spice on my tongue, the latter of which begins to recede almost as soon as I notice it. In terms of construction, the draw is excellent so far after a straight cut while the smoke production is about average off of the foot, but the burn starts to get out of hand early, forcing me to touch it up a couple of times. The overall strength starts out a bit closer to mild than medium but is still increasing at the end of the first third.

Coming into the second third of the Principle Limited Edition Toro, the strong dark chocolate note morphs way to more of a combination of both creamy leather and earth flavors, along with lesser notes interspersed throughout that include hay, sourdough bread, nuts, floral and a touch of spice. The espresso note from the first third has disappeared totally by the halfway point, replaced by a light mushroom note, while the brown sugar sweetness has also changed to a raisin sweetness that combines well with the remaining black pepper on the retrohale. Construction-wise, the draw continues to impress, but the burn continues to give me issues that need to be corrected with my lighter in order to avoid it getting out of hand. The strength hits the medium mark by the halfway point, but stalls out, seemingly content remain there for the moment. 

It seems the only constant in the profile of the Toro Especial Gold Band 2019 is change. The main flavors in the profile switch again, this time to a distinct—and at some points, overwhelming—mushroom flavor followed by notes of creamy cedar, leather, yeast, espresso beans, earth, salted nuts and minerals that flit in and out. Thankfully, the burn has evened up nicely and the draw continues to impress, while the overall strength goes almost nowhere compared to the end of the second third, ending up just north of the medium mark just as I put the nub down with about an inch remaining.

Final Notes

  • Principe is a fairly common name for cigar vitolas across different brands: Padron makes one in its 1964 Anniversary Series—both natural and maduro—Habanos S.A.’s San Cristóbal de la Habana marca sells an El Príncipe and La Aurora has a machine-made brand named Principes.
  • The logo on this band instantly reminded me of the logo for Frozen Food Express Industries, Inc., whose trucks I see on the roads around Dallas all the time.
  • If you are a fan of historic cigar art, then the Principe Cigars Instagram page is for you: the account posts a photograph of a new piece of historic art like this just about every Sunday.
  • I am not a fan of mushroom flavors in a cigar—something that I taste fairly often in Davidoff blends—and while that note is not a major player in the second final third, it really ramps up in the final third, to the point where it overwhelms many of the other notes at times.
  • The cigars smoked for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time for all three samples averaged one hour and 27 minutes.
84 Overall Score

The Principle Cigars Limited Edition Toro Especial Gold Band 2019 has one of the most obvious progression from one third to the next of any cigar I have smoked in the past six months or so: it starts out with dominant dark chocolate and brown sugar notes which morph into flavors of earth, leather and raisin sweetness in the second third. Unfortunately, the final third features an overwhelming mushroom flavor with slight milk chocolate sweetness, the latter of which does almost nothing to help the balance in the profile. In addition, there were numerous construction issues with each of the three samples needing multiple touchups, while the band was so heavily glued on one sample that it took massive chunks of the wrapper with it when I removed it. In the end, the Limited Edition Toro Especial Gold Band 2019 is both rich and decently complex throughout, but be prepared to baby it along with your lighter as it burns down.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.