In 2012—some might argue in 2011—Davidoff started releasing cigars based on the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Davidoff Year of the Snake, Davidoff Year of the Horse, etc.

To put it mildly, the series has been quite successful. Based on the MSRP of the cigars, the latest release generated almost $5.5 million in retail sales. As such, it’s no surprise that other companies have opted to release their own cigars based on the concept. For the most part, the formula is quite homogenous:

  • A large cigar, presumably so the manufacturer can charge higher prices.
  • Package the cigars in ornate gold and red boxes because those two colors have positive associations in Chinese culture.
  • Oftentimes, they are released in eight-count boxes because eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture.
  • A limited release, typically shipping between November and February, so it’s on shelves before Chinese New Year.

Then, there’s General Cigar Co., which has gone to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Some of that is probably because General’s approach to most of its brands is to have lower prices than most of its competitors. Some of it is also probably due to the fact that most of the brands that General sells—with notable exceptions being CAO and Macanudo—are brands that it can’t sell in China due to trademarks. So, its Chinese Zodiac calendar releases have been based around the theme of American Chinese food.

This year’s release is called Punch Kung Pow!, a 6 x 52 toro that uses a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper over a Honduran habano binder and fillers from Brazil, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Like the previous releases, it features an unfinished foot and is packaged in boxes designed to mimic American Chinese takeout food.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Punch Kung Pow!
  • Country of Origin: Honduras
  • Factory: STG Danlí
  • Wrapper: U.S.A. (Connecticut Broadleaf)
  • Binder: Honduras (Habano)
  • Filler: Brazil, Dominican Republic, Honduras & Mexico
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $5.99 (Box of 20, $119.80)
  • Release Date: Feb. 15, 2021
  • Number of Cigars Released: 4,500 Boxes of 20 Cigars (90,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The first thing I notice is the unfinished foot, which fortunately isn’t leaking any small bits of tobacco. Elsewhere, the cigar seems like it was rolled pretty well. I must say, I like this version of the band better than the other ones used before. The aroma from the wrapper is medium-plus with barnyard over dark chocolate, leather and earthiness. There’s this weird aroma that reminds me of the smell of new industrial carpeting being installed. I’m not sure that’s exactly the sensation, but that’s what comes to mind. Whatever the case, it’s not the most appetizing of smells and it’s not something I can ever recall another cigar smelling like. The foot is a bit stronger with notes of sweet milk chocolate, red pepper, white pepper and a bit of that carpet smell. While the cold draws are medium-full, the flavors themselves are a bit muted. I get notes of milk chocolate, blueberry and earthiness but all of them seem a bit watered-down behind what’s otherwise a generic tobacco sensation.

Compared to cigars with a more pronounced brushed foot, lighting the unfinished foot of the Kung Pow! is a breeze. That being said, I do take a bit more time to make sure the cigar is fully lit. Once that’s done, the first flavors I pick up are earthiness, wet mud, sourdough bread, a sugary sweetness, creaminess, and some minerality. The first half dozen puffs seem to be a constant rearranging of the flavors, but after that, the cigars finds its groove. I do notice that the cigar is a bit earthier through the unfinished foot part, though I’m not sure how much of that is due to the introduction of the wrapper versus any number of other varietals. Whatever the case, the Punch Kung Pow! settles on a mixture of a terroir-like earthiness, coffee, mineral flavors and some sunflower seeds. It finishes with lots of black pepper joined by sourdough bread, earthiness, leather and a bit of a fresh mud sensation. Retrohales aren’t as potent as the main flavor, though I pick up a lot of meatiness, a vibrant bread flavor and some walnuts. Those retrohales finish toastier with white pepper, black pepper and more of the terroir flavors. Flavor is full, body is medium-plus and strength is medium. Construction is fantastic.

At one point, I think that the building nuttiness might be able to take over as the strongest flavor from the variety of earthy sensations that have defined the Punch from the start, but it’s not to be. While it certainly makes a charge towards the top, it sputters out and takes a clear role as a secondary flavor. After that, there’s black pepper and a new roasted corn flavor, the latter of which is quite enjoyable. The finish really shows what the Punch Kung Pow! wants to deliver: earthiness. There’s generic earthiness, mineral flavors, muddy sensations—all of which just produce this vibrant terroir sensation. Additionally, I find some hay and a fading nuttiness; there’s white pepper on the tongue, while black pepper lingers elsewhere. Retrohales have a more generic earthiness, bread crust, sunflower seeds, hay and a bit of white pepper. It seems to be a bit of addition by way of subtraction for the retrohale’s finish: earthiness, white pepper and a hint of citrus. Flavor is pretty close to full, body is medium-plus and strength remains medium. Construction continues to be excellent on all three cigars.

While the individual flavors don’t change much in the final third, the profile gets much crisper. The array of earthiness continues to lead the Punch Kung Pow!, though the mineral flavors have decreased. Beyond those flavors, there’s something that reminds me of potato crisps and some nuttiness. It finishes with the familiar bouquet of earthy flavors, joined by some white pepper. Retrohales have this weird herbal flavor that takes me a handful of puffs to identify. The closest thing I can think of is that it reminds me of a very mild Shishito pepper. In addition, I find earthiness and nuttiness, the latter of which is still a secondary flavor. The finish of the retrohales isn’t as vibrant as the other parts of the profile, though it’s the first time that the nuttiness seems to overtake the earthiness. The Shishito pepper-like flavor sticks around through the finish, but I still feel like the finish could use some more intensity. Flavor is medium-full, body is medium-full and strength is medium-plus. From start to finish, each cigar had fantastic construction.

Final Notes

  • General is aware that the name of this release is not the same as the food dish, which is spelled kung pao. In a press release, Ed Lahmann, senior brand manager of Punch, said: The medium-to-full-bodied blend is vaguely sweet with an undercurrent of spice, just like the popular Chinese food dish of the differently-spelled name. We put a new spin on the takeout container for this year’s release, and we’ve once again hit the post-holiday sweet spot for cigar lovers.
  • Unlike last year’s release, this dish is at least a food item that originated in China, not America.
  • If I didn’t know any better, I would think this was a collaboration with Cigar Dojo. That’s not meant as an insult; rather, this type of packaging—particularly its Asian themes and the boldness—seems like something that Cigar Dojo would do.
  • While I understand why it’s done, the foil portion of this packaging isn’t for me. The cigars aren’t expensive, but this just seems extra cheap.

  • The inside of the bands have messages that I’m guessing are made to mimic the fortunes found inside of fortune cookies. Here’s what was on the inside of the three cigars I smoked.
  • I am curious to see what General does in the future as it seems like it’s run out of most of the takeout options. At some point, I wonder if it just doesn’t go for the magnum opus and find a way to package cigars in a box that looks like a giant fortune cookie.
  • While some people reading this might be concerned by the number of references to pepper, I don’t think this was that spicy of a cigar. There’s certainly a number of different pepper sensations and at least one is present at almost every puff. That being said, it’s extremely well-balanced. If anything, the standout flavor both in terms of its intensity and the variety would be earthiness, which just seems to be all over the place.
  • On that note, if you find yourself agreeing with Patrick Lagreid’s recommendations on a regular basis—particularly his love for the terroir-heavy cigars—this seems like it should be right up your alley.
  • There have been a number of other Year of the Ox-themed releases from other companies. To my knowledge, Davidoff, Drew Estate, Great Wall, Habanos S.A., Plasencia and Tabacalera SLU have all released Year of the Ox cigars. Maya Selva also created a Year of the Ox cigar but opted not to sell it.
  • We just paid an average of $28 per cigar for two different Year of the Ox releases. While I understand General isn’t intending these to be luxury releases for the Chinese market, I am thankful that there is at least one manufacturer who isn’t pricing its Chinese Zodiac calendar release at the top end of the spectrum.
  • Construction-wise, things couldn’t get more impressive. There are inch-long chunks of ash, as much smoke production as I want, and combustion that allows the cigar to be smoked quickly or with minutes in between puffs. I’m not really sure how the construction could be any better.
  • General Cigar Co. advertises on halfwheel.
  • Cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Two cigars took about an hour and 45 minutes to smoke but the first sample took close to three hours. I’m not really sure what to make of the drastic difference in smoking times as the cigars were otherwise remarkably consistent.
  • Site sponsors Corona Cigar Co. and STOGIES World Class Cigars carry the Punch Kung Pow!
89 Overall Score

Underneath all the gimmicks, the Punch Kung Pow! is about as solid of a cigar as one can be. It’s not the most complex, it’s not the most interesting, it’s not the best—but there’s nothing wrong with it and there’s a lot to like. To me, the construction is the most impressive part, a technically flawless cigar in that regard. I wish there was a bit more sweetness to contrast some of the other flavors and bring out more complexity, but perhaps that just wasn’t meant to be here. Out of the three releases in this series so far, this is my favorite, with the Egg Roll a pretty close second. 

Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.