In recent years, there’s been a growing number of manufacturers releasing cigars based on the Chinese Zodiac calendar, which is best known for naming each year Year of the ____, something many Americans have probably seen on placemats at Chinese restaurants if not elsewhere.
The trend started with Davidoff and has expanded to a variety of non-Cuban companies, and starting last year, Habanos S.A. joined that group. For those two companies in particular, the Chinese market and, more importantly, Chinese cigar buyers represent an important segment of sales, one that has grown immensely in the last decade.
Most of the releases have played heavily on two favorite Chinese colors—red and gold—and have used the specific animal as part of the cigar’s name and packaging.
For 2020, that means it’s the year of the rat.
Last year, General Cigar Co. released the Punch Egg Roll, a short robusto with an uncovered foot that came in boxes that looked like small Chinese takeout containers. Because of the unique packaging and all the attention it got, I honestly had no clue that it was actually branded with “Year of the Pig.”
This year, General took its Americanized Chinese food packaging theme to new levels with the Punch Chop Suey, which comes packaged with chopsticks.
If the chopsticks weren’t included with cigars—I believe the first time that’s happened—more time would probably be spent talking about the price. The Punch Chop Suey is a 7 x 37 panatela that comes with a remarkably low price of $5.49 per cigar, before taxes.
As for the blend, it uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and fillers from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Like the Egg Roll, the Punch Chop Suey has an unfinished foot, a relatively rare look for a cigar of this size.
- Punch Egg Roll (4 1/2 x 50) — 2019 — $3.99 (Bundle of 25, $99.75)
- Punch Chop Suey (7 x 37) — 2020 — $5.49 (Box of 25, $137.25)
Just like the Egg Roll, the inside of the bands feature a message a la a fortune cookie. For this release, there are five different messages.
- Cigar Reviewed: Punch Chop Suey
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: General Cigar Dominicana
- Wrapper: Ecuador (Sumatra)
- Binder: Nicaragua
- Filler: Dominican Republic & Nicaragua
- Length: 7 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 37
- Vitola: Panatela
- MSRP: $5.49 (Box of 25, $137.25)
- Release Date: February 2020
- Number of Cigars Released: 3,650 Boxes of 25 Cigars (91,250 Total Cigars)
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The Punch Chop Suey is one of the ugliest cigars I’ve seen in quite some time. If there wasn’t a gimmick with the packaging or if this cigar wasn’t being sold to purposely be ugly, I imagine there would be a lot of complaints. Even then, it’s still not great. There are veins that protrude out from the cigar in a manner that is a bit weird to hold, the seams aren’t particularly flush and there are sharp cuts and small tears in the wrapper itself. Once I get past that, smelling the wrapper produces a lot of chocolate and hints of manure. The foot is much sweeter, like taking a whiff of a bag of hot cocoa powder, and then some bark. Cold draws on all three cigars are quite open for a lancero: lots of chocolate, some bark, dry leaves and if I take a hard cold draw, some pepper flavors.
That open draw continues once the cigar is lit. Flavor-wise, the Punch starts with wet leaves, hay, dry earth and a bit of a mineral flavor. Pretty quickly—both time-wise and as far as the cigar burning down—things settle into a mixture of wet leaves, minerals, creaminess and a thick buttermilk flavor. Retrohales are creamier with something that reminds me of Montreal Seasoning underneath. The finish is similar, though with less creaminess and more cinnamon. Flavor is medium-full, body is medium-full and strength is nearly full. I ended up having to use two different cigars to produce the pictures because the ash struggles to stay on the cigar through the entirety of the one-inch long unfinished foot.
The second third of the Punch Shop Suey sees things getting better. The cigar is a bit sweeter, but the flavors that are there are also just more refined, albeit still not where I’d like them. Upfront there’s a lot of earthiness on top of bourbon, grains and an underlying sweetness. Retrohales have a mixture of cloves and a distinct flavor that reminds me of greasy breadsticks. It’s a bit fuller, but not as pleasant as the flavors I get via the mouth. The finish is much sweeter with a bready sweetness that is reminiscent of a pecan roll on top of some earthiness, grains and minerals. Flavor is medium-full, body is medium-plus and strength is medium-full. Thanks to the very open draw, smoke production is gigantic for a lancero, though I’m having to smoke a lot quicker to prevent the cigar from going out. Even then, by the second third of each cigar I’m having to use my lighter, both to help keep the cigar lit and occasionally relight the cigar.
I would recommend that you finish this cigar with about two inches left. If you decide to keep going, there’s a very distinct clove note that is present for 10 or so puffs, but then I realize that the cigar is getting to the finger-burning levels. Going past that produces earthiness and a lot of white pepper, something that isn’t surprising given that the cigar is now down to less than an inch. Retrohales have a really bizarre sweetness that I can’t identify, but ultimately, I’d put the cigar down at the point you see in the picture below, as it’s not really worth the fuss beyond that.
- I’m not Chinese, but I am half Japanese and so my knowledge of Asian-American culture is probably above average compared to most Americans. I don’t have a dog in the fights of Chinese-American culture or Chinese holidays. That being said, chop suey is by most accounts a dish that was developed in America—though that is apparently disputed—and egg rolls are certainly not from mainland China. I think it’s fine if General Cigar Co. wants to call cigars these names with the Americanized Chinese food packaging but to then try to market this as a Year of the Rat release, a reference to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, makes no sense.
- Furthermore. I’m not sure that I’d necessarily want to brand something after a food item and then also include the word “rat” anywhere near the packaging.
- There’s also something to be said that unlike pretty much every other Year of the Rat release, these cigars will only be sold in the U.S. I can’t imagine the audience for cigars marketed after the Zodiac calendar is that big in just the U.S., so I don’t understand why General doesn’t just focus on the creative packaging and the low prices of the cigar and avoid any conversations about cultural misappropriation.
- If you are interested in watching a movie about Chinese food in America, I highly recommend The Search for General Tso on Netflix. While I’m at, my two favorite old school Americanized-Chinese restaurants are Yuet Lee in San Francisco and Nam Wah Tea Parlor in New York City.
- I didn’t use the chopsticks that came with the box. I never really thought I’d ever have an opportunity to specify that in a cigar review.
- All three cigars I smoked for this review featured the same message on the inside of the bands, pictured above.
- One thing that I find odd is General refers to these as coming in bundles. I get the boxes aren’t made of wood, but they definitely aren’t bundles.
- I am baffled by just how awfully these cigars were rolled. Two cigars I smoked were noticeably crooked, the wrappers were about as ugly as I’ve seen on anything short of a test blend and there were just rolling mistakes left and right that I almost never see. The only upside is this makes you appreciate nearly every other cigar you’ll smoke. These cigars were also taken from a box we purchased locally, meaning it wasn’t an issue of the cigars get damaged in transit.
- After smoking these, I happened to be in a retail shop and saw an open box of them. I didn’t pick up the cigars because the shop currently doesn’t allow that due to concerns related to coronavirus, but from a distance and in cellophane I couldn’t see any signs of a poor roll. I didn’t want to get to close to the cigars to see if that would become more apparent at a closer distance.
- Whatever the case, these aren’t the cigars General would want to use as examples of its cigar-rolling prowess.
- The loose draw meant the smoke production was well above average for a lancero.
- One sample was very underfilled, though it didn’t seem to smoke any worse than the others.
- General Cigar Co. advertises on halfwheel.
- Cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time was one hour and 20 minutes, super quick for a lancero.
- Site sponsors Corona Cigar Co. and Famous Smoke Shop carry the Punch Chop Suey.
There is a reason why lanceros typically cost $10 or more. I have probably smoked more brands of lanceros than anyone on this planet and I’m not sure I’ve ever smoked one at this price point outside of a few random bundle brands. This cigar was just sloppy and the pictures above show that. There’s a lot that General could have done based on the packaging, but the end result is a release that was more focused on the packaging than the product, something that is never a good sign.