Rafael González North Star (ER Nordico-Baltico 2017)

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In the cigar industry, there is plenty of talk and discussion about pairings: certain types of tobacco with others, and of course certain cigars with certain types of spirits.

And then there are the pairings of two regions of the world not known for being strong cigar markets and one of more minor marcas in Habanos S.A.’s portfolio, a pairing that results in this cigar, the Rafael González North Star.

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It’s a cigar commissioned by Habanos Nordic A.B., the company that distributes Habanos S.A.’s products in the Nordic and Baltic regions. The Nordic region is made up of Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, while the Baltic region is made up of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The distributor had 6,000 individually numbered boxes of 10 cigars produced for the release.

At 4 inches (102mm) long with a 50 ring gauge, it’s a rather small cigar that is the same size as the Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchills and the Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos. The vitola was featured in Habanos S.A.’s Selección Petit Robustos sampler, which was released in 2012 and included the Cohiba, H. Upmann, Montecristo, Partagás and Romeo y Julieta marcas. It has also been used for a number of Edición Regional releases.

 

The cigar was part of the 2017 class of Edición Regional cigars, but as is all-too-often the case, the cigar didn’t show up on schedule. While it received a limited launch in June 2018 as part of the Fine Spirits and Cigar Weekend in Tallinn, Estonia, its full release didn’t occur until the end of September 2018, spreading throughout the region over the following weeks. Given that it was sold in multiple countries, pricing ranged from €12.50-13.10 ($14.71-$15.42) at the time of its release.

It was the second Edición Regional for the Nordic region, the first being the Punch Northern Lights, which was released in 2009. Meanwhile it was the third release for the Baltic region, which had previously received a pair of El Rey del Mundo releases: the Vikingos from 2007 and the Balthasar from 2009.

As for the Rafael González brand, it dates back to 1928, having been named for its founder. It’s not the most popular name in Cuban cigars as evidenced by the fact that it has the same number of Edición Regional releases as it does current regular production cigars, three:

  • Rafael González Short Panetela (5 x 36)
  • Rafael González Petit Corona (5 1/8 x 42)
  • Rafael González Perlas (4 x 40)
  • Cigar Reviewed: Rafael González North Star Edición Regional Nordico-Baltico (2017)
  • Country of Origin: Cuba
  • Factory: Undisclosed
  • Wrapper: Cuba
  • Binder: Cuba
  • Filler: Cuba
  • Length: 4 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Petit Robusto
  • Est. Price: $21.50 (Box of 10, $215)
  • Release Date: September 2018
  • Number of Cigars Released: 6,000 Boxes of 10 Cigars (60,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The wrappers on the Rafael González North Star are either very good looking or absolutely gorgeous, as the first sample I smoked had one of the best looking leaves I can recall seeing on a Cuban cigar in some time. It’s a reddish brown hue with a bit of subtle sheen, very small veins and an almost velvety texture on the fingers. It’s rolled fairly firmly but one sample has some give to it, a seemingly very well constructed cigar going by looks, with each sample capped very tidily. Aromas off the foot of the cigar include a cool meatiness, reminding me of preparing to reheat some leftover steak. There’s just a touch of mellow sweetness, though I can’t quite place it other than it is a heavier expression of the term, as well as occasional smells of dry earth, wood, and a generic tobacco leaf aroma. The cold draws on two samples are firm enough to be concerning and has me thinking the cigar might be rather slow smoking, while the third sample is much better. The flavor has a cool tanginess and, like the aroma, just a touch of applesauce sweetness in the mix.

The first puffs of the Rafael González North Star offers a rich, hearty campfire aroma and flavor, that is thankfully fairly tame with the smokiness. One sample also has a bread-like component in both flavor and texture. It thins out a bit in the subsequent puffs, clearing the way for a bit of thick, mellow creaminess to enter the equation. The campfire sensation returns quickly and now has more of a smoky component, while black pepper makes its first appearance on the finish. Much like the flavor changes, retrohales vary a bit in the first inch with some ebb and flow to the black pepper, though they are consistently balanced and in harmony with the flavor. Flavor is medium-plus to medium-full, body is more or less aligned with that, while strength is just shy of medium.

The second third sticks with the campfire theme, but now shifts firewood to the front of the profile, tones down the smokiness, and brings out a bit more pepper on the finish. It’s a bit more of a vibrant profile, if a bit more drying on the palate at times. Out of that comes a bit more earthiness, but it’s a smooth and natural transition as it almost tastes as if the cigar has picked up some earthiness from the ground upon which the campfire might be burning. There are times when black pepper roughens up the finish a bit more than I would like, but otherwise I don’t have much to complain about through the first half of the cigar. The final puffs of this section largely stay the course but also come with a steady building of flavor, as the woodiness gets a bit more distinct and the black pepper takes some noticeable steps up the intensity scale. Construction remains near perfect, and while the draw can be a touch tight it’s not problematic. The burn line is even and smoke production is more than acceptable. This portion finishes around medium-plus in flavor and body, while strength is medium or maybe even a tick beneath that.

The start of the final third is the most vibrant flavor profile so far. The Rafael González North Star continues to build on the final puffs of the second third and the wood gets even crisper and more defined, while the pepper finds a higher gear even though it isn’t particularly heavy, nor does it elicit any burn on my palate. There are points where the profile gets lighter, and it feels like it’s now trying to pick up a bit of dried fruit even though the profile doesn’t get outright sweet. For the first time since being lit, combustion struggles in this section enough to warrant a full touch-up for the first sample. A dry wood flavor with some accents of black pepper moves to the front of the profile in the final inch or so and takes the cigar to its eventual conclusion, giving the taste buds plenty of tingle in the process. Construction is generally very good, while flavor finishes near full, body around medium, and strength a bit below medium.

Final Notes:

  • The box code for these cigars is EPM DIC 17
  • There was some good visual harmony between the color of the wrapper leaf, the brown primary band and the red secondary band.
  • This is the third Rafael González to be reviewed on halfwheel, and all of them have been Edición Regional releases. Brooks Whittington reviewed the Petit Pirámides, a 2013 release for Germany, while Charlie Minato reviewed the 88, a 2016 release for the Asia Pacific region.
  • The incredibly wonderful and helpful CubanCigarWebsite.com has some great images of old Rafael González boxes, including some featuring the image of Hugh Lowther, also known as Lord Lonsdale and the 5th Earl of Lonsdale. A noted cigar smoker, it appears the Lonsdale vitola was named after him. Unfortunately, the Rafael González Lonsdale was discontinued in 2006.
  • Habanos S.A. classifies this as having a light flavor profile; based on the three cigars I smoked for this review I would disagree with that assessment,
  • On a note that I don’t know how to explain, the one sample that didn’t have a firm draw had a much more fragile wrapper, which really got exposed when the bands were removed.
  • None of the cigars left me feeling much of a nicotine buzz.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel. We paid $215 for a box of 10 cigars.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 30 minutes on average, though ranged from about 70 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes.
89 Overall Score

Consider me pleasantly surprised and impressed by what the Rafael González North Star had to offer. This compact vitola gets right to work upon being lit, delivering a flavor and aroma that draws on the profile of a campfire and then spending the rest of the time exploring different aspects of it. That means shifts from woods to pepper to earth to a bit of smokiness, along with plenty of puffs that tie all those things together quite well. With little exception, there wasn’t a puff or retrohale that wasn’t enjoyable if not very enjoyable. While I might want a bit more lushness and depth from the profile, that’s only to see if the cigar could push its offering to an even higher level. I wasn’t thrilled with the draw on two of the samples, but neither seemed to overly hamper the experience. Even if its Edición Regional release status means it comes with a premium price, I wouldn’t object to adding to my humidor if the opportunity should ever present itself.

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About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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