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2020 CA Report: The Essential Cigar Advisor Guide to Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Cigars
Cigar Advisor’s Essential DT&T Cigar Tasting & Buying Guide
Editors/Reviewers: John Pullo, Gary Korb, Jared Gulick
Talk to Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Cigars founder Steve Saka about his approach to cigar making, and it may seem like sometimes even perfection isn’t good enough for him. Or, perhaps a better way to put it is to cite the company’s mantra: puros sin compromiso, meaning, to make “cigars without compromise.” The company even created a line extension of the same name.
Maybe it’s Steve’s Engineering degree that makes him look so meticulously close at not just how things work, but why. After getting into smoking premium handmade cigars in the 1980s his interest turned to obsession. As a result, Steve has authored numerous books and articles on cigars and about black tobacco in particular. His knowledge earned him an executive consultant gig at J-R Cigars, including an editorial role in that retailer’s CIGAR magazine. From there it was on to Drew Estate where he presided as president, and later, CEO. Steve also helped Drew Estate earn a place in premium cigar history with the creation of the Liga Privada No.9, a blend originally made only for himself and the Drew Estate staff. Today the Liga Privada selection is considered a classic.
A Quick Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust History
Saka founded Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust in the summer of 2015. Dunbarton is named for the New Hampshire town where Steve and his wife and business partner Cindy live. The “Trust” portion refers to the early 20th century bank building that houses the Dunbarton offices.
The company’s first release was Sobremesa, which was not only met with high expectations, it exceeded them. Sobremesa was followed by Mi Querida, which received similar acclaim, and the hits just kept on coming: Todos Las Dias, Umbagog, Muestra de Saka, and Sin Compromiso. And there’s always something in the works, too.
But it’s not all Saka. Steve has surrounded himself with an excellent staff, including 11 year cigar industry veteran and fellow Drew Estate alum, David Lafferty, who was named vice president of sales in March, 2019. Then there’s Raul Disla, master cigarmaker and production manager at the NACSA factory in Nicaragua where Mi Querida are made. Raul has also worked at Cuevas y Toraño, Davidoff, AJ Fernandez, and British American Tobacco, makers of Dunhill. And of course, there are all the highly-talented farmers, torcedors, and other workers who are all dedicated to a single cause—making cigars to the most precise standards. Moreover, the individual shapes in every DT&T marca are carefully blended with just the right portion of tobaccos to express their flavor to the fullest degree, making each size a little masterpiece unto itself. That’s one of the reasons their cigars are top-rated.
High rating scores are nice, but for DT&T it’s more about consumer numbers. In the short five years Dunbarton has been marketing their cigars, they’ve built a rock star following that approaches the kind of devotion often attributed to fans of Bruce Springsteen and U2. If you’ve ever attended a DT&T event, be it in-store or virtually, of late, Steve’s colorful, no bullshit way of expressing himself is truly without peer. He tells it like it is, which is another reason he’s so well-respected. It’s also why cigar smokers are willing to pay a little more for DT&T cigars.
To that end, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trade’s mission is, as Steve says, “to create puros that pay respectful tribute to the long, vaulted history of handmade vitolas, honor the dedicated works of all the vegueros, torcedors and artists who dedicate their labors to this timeless craft. Our goal is to always offer the connoisseur an unparalleled smoking experience bar none.”
For this DT&T cigar guide, we’ve sampled Saka’s blends sold at Famous. That’s nine in all, but supply and demand – especially in Dunbarton’s case – means stock moves fast (see Brûlée Blue), and it doesn’t always come back (DT&T Famous 80th). If you’ve had your eye on one of Steve’s cigars, and wanted a general idea of what you might expect when you smoke it, this guide should help you decide if it’s the right one for you. We encourage you to add your comments at the end and share your favorite DT&T cigar experiences below.
Sobremesa Cigar Review
Size: Short Robusto (4 ¾” x 52, a Famous exclusive size)
Wrapper: Ecuador Habano
Binder: Mexican San Andres
Filler: Nicaragua, PA Broadleaf Ligero
Construction: Wrapper is the same brown hue as milk chocolate, with a tiny bit of tooth; the cigar is tightly packed and firm to the touch.
Draw: Moderate resistance.
Pre-light flavor: The smell is earth and barnyard; the taste is dry earth, plus a barely-there bittersweetness.
Toasting & Light: First few rips cut a swath of pepper n’ spice across the tongue.
Base flavors: Wood, nuts, pepper, sweet.
Retrohale: A warm, very easygoing spice mixed with sweet. Actually, Sobremesa was consistently sweeter here than it was anywhere else.
Aroma: Somewhat nutty.
Burn & Ash Quality: Mostly grey-white with a crisp, but slightly wavy burn line. Ash holds tight with little flake.
Once the introductory niceties are out of the way and you actually light the Sobremesa, you might find that the smoke isn’t thick…but it is flavorful: I sensed a sharp poke of spice, plus that sensation you get when you’re around someone who’s making something on a wood smoker. And it’s all tinged with a streak of pepper. There’re also little bits of this wicked dark chocolate sweetness here and there on the finish.
Then about halfway, that profile packs up and checks out, replaced with this juicy, meaty, almost marinated sensation. Then the profile changes again to leather, as some spice lazily arrives in the retrohale. A shot of pepper returns just as you’re about to take the band off.
Sounds like a bunch of wild changes and complexity, right? Look at Sobremesa’s blend sheet and you’ll see why: San Andres binder, four different Nicaraguan long fillers, plus a twist of Pennsylvania Broadleaf ligero. So much feisty pepper energy, bundled up in a short Robusto, a size exclusive to Famous Smoke.
Sobremesa was Dunbarton’s inaugural smoke, made at Joya de Nicaragua. At the time, you might have expected that Saka would mount his comeback with a Drew-y, Liga Privada 2.0 type of cigar. But it’s still pretty clear to me he’s moved on: I found Sobremesa more accessible, and easier to smoke and enjoy. – John
Sobremesa Brulee Cigar Review
Size: Robusto (5 ¼” x 52)
Wrapper: Ecuador Connecticut
Binder: Mexican Matacapan
Filler: Nicaragua (Esteli, Condega, Pueblo Nuevo)
Construction: Tobaccos are firmly packed inside a somewhat silky Connecticut wrapper that is the color of hay.
Draw: Nice and clear.
Pre-light flavor: A stray aroma of hay, earth & sweetness; the taste is a mix of well-fermented tobacco – and it’s sweet, just like everyone says, in a powdered sugar kind of way.
Toasting & Light: First pulls start out nutty and woody.
Base flavors: Toasted malt, cedar & nuts with a genuinely sweet finish (caramel, vanilla).
Retrohale: Sweet for sure – a little creamy, plus a bit of mild dry spice, like nutmeg.
Aroma: Woody and very pleasant.
Burn & Ash Quality: Trim burn line leaves fine stacks of grey ash, burns mostly straight.
All the talk you’ve heard about this cigar being so naturally sweet…well, Brulee smokes as advertised. There is none of that Connecticut bitterness. Zero – it’s impressive, actually. Fermented right out of the tobacco. There is also a faint hint of saltiness that keeps the taste buds energized.
Speaking of salty, we know that price is a sensitive subject when it comes to cigars. As we wrote in our “boutiques” issue of Primings, some cigars have developed a reputation for being expensive; “Steve Saka would counter that it’s about value…you get what you pay for.” He means the quality of the materials, the cigar making processes, how they all contribute to the value of the smoking experience.
Interesting that by the second half there’s a darker profile at work: less creamy, more toasty – like wood and earth. Not the direction I’d expected it would go, and the sweetness is limited to the finish.
There’s a lot going on here for a Connecticut. That means you can pair it with a more intense drink: if it’s coffee, lay off the cream and go espresso. Otherwise, a smooth-drinking Scotch will accentuate the positives. – John
Sobremesa Brulee Blue Cigar Review
Size: Corona (6 ¼” x 46)
Wrapper: Ecuador Connecticut Shade
Binder: Mexico Matacapan negro de Temporal
Construction: Buttery color to its wrapper, tightly (but not too tightly) rolled. My sample was missing its pigtail. Not a big deal, though.
Pre-light flavor: Sweet, slightly spicy.
Toasting & Light: Woody.
Base flavors: Coffee, earth, nuts, and peppers. Tea and leather later.
Retrohale: Flowery and sweet with pepper following close behind.
Aroma: Salty and buttery. Kind of like popcorn.
Burn & Ash Quality: Stacked and straight. Thin burn line.
Since its beginning, the Brulee story has stirred a bit of controversy…The original release was sweet – so sweet, in fact, that it provoked some not-so-quiet talk in cigar blog circles that Saka had gone and made a cigar that was artificially sweetened. But the thing is, those who knew better, knew it wasn’t. No aftertaste means no artificial sweetener. Brulee Blue, however, is another story. My money says it has a sweetened cap, and my money also says Saka did it just to stir the pot. Let’s check it out.
First things first. The pre-light is sweet and slightly spicy with an evolution that turns woody and sweet. I wouldn’t say the cigar is stronger than the original, but it is less refined. And even though it looks bad on paper (er…screen), this is a good thing. That’s because instead of the blend being a melting pot for everything, each flavor gets a turn. There’s cream, cedar, and vanilla, plus that tell-tale sweetness from the cap we talked about. But there’s also a hair more pepper to my palate.
At the halfway point, Blue gets a bit earthier, the pepper steps down, and the flavors shift toward tea, leather, and even a splash of anise.
Make no mistake, though it’s bolder than the original, it’s not a bold cigar. Brulee Blue taste more like the Connecticuts today’s boutique blenders are known for making, without the heavy hit of nicotine. So, if you like big flavors without the palpitations, this is a solid Connecticut for your humidor. – Jared
Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Famous 80th Anniversary Cigar Review
Size: Box-Pressed Toro (6” x 52)
Wrapper: Nicaragua Sun Grown
Construction: Coffee dark, oily sheen, and well-constructed.
Draw: Very good.
Pre-light flavor: Sweet and earthy.
Toasting & Light: Woody.
Base flavors: Earthy with some citrus peel tang, with cream, caramel, and pepper.
Retrohale: Nuts, wood, and pepper.
Burn & Ash Quality: No burn or ash issues. Stacked grey and black ashes.
This is my second go reviewing Dunbarton Famous 80th. Last year, I test drove it for our Famous Smoke Shop 80th Anniversary guide. I have to say, I think it smokes a bit differently this time around. For brevity’s sake, I won’t list those differences here, but you can compare my original notes by clicking here when you’re finished.
Lots of earth, lots of citrus tanginess, and super creamy. That’s Dunbarton Famous 80th in a nutshell. The first two – earth and citrus – come very early on in the smoke, and by the inch mark, they’re the most prominent flavors. There’s a lighter spice and pepper up front than I expected, but they work their way in as you burn toward the nub.
The cream and caramel come a little later, somewhere between the second and third inch. Think vanilla or even whipped cream…sweet and silky. The citrus tang that was in the spotlight is now on the finish, with a change to a floral emphasis at halftime, and dark roast coffee towards the finale.
Bottom line: a crowd pleaser from cut to finish, not only one of the best from the Saka camp, but deserving of its place in our 80th lineup. – Jared
Mi Querida Triqui Traca Cigar Review
Size: No. 648 (6″x 48 Corona Extra)
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf No.1 Dark Corona
Filler: Dominican Ligero & Nicaragua
FYI: Triqui Traca, pronounced, “tree-kee trah-kah” (don’t forget to roll your R’s), is Nicaraguan slang for strings of firecrackers that are lit to celebrate important religious and national holidays.
Construction: Superb. The Broadleaf wrapper has good thickness, nice toothiness, and a lustrous leathery sheen from top to bottom. Additionally, the wrapper has a fresh, sweet tobacco odor. The cigar was solidly packed and felt balanced in the hand. The triple seam cap is deftly applied.
Pre-light flavor: Sweet spice and leather.
Toasting & Light: No problems. Initial flavors were sweet and spicy.
Base flavors: Leather, sweet tobacco, cedar, sweet and peppery spices, cream.
Retrohale: Slightly peppery.
Burn & Ash Quality: The burn was a bit off at times, but not an issue, revealing a mostly grey and very long, firm ash. (See photo.).
Balance of flavors: Spot-on.
Following the initial sweet and peppery notes, the cigar rounds out to a very smooth, creamy, and sweet-spicy smoke. The ash starts off well, too, mostly grey and very firm. The smoke is creamy, smooth, and loamy out of the gate with notes of leather, sweet spice, and cedar.
By the midsection a note of cream enters the mix, while the core flavors, mostly leathery with lots of sweet spice and sweet tobacco, venture forth.
This Triqui Traca number almost begs you to smoke it slowly. Rush it and you may regret it. Oozing a well–controlled amount of creamy smoke, it’s hellbent on dark flavors, locks in and skates off at medium-plus momentum.
By the last act the flavor profile reveals some subtle changes; little flecks of earth, coffee grounds and such. I smoked it down to the nub and the cigar never turned bitter.
Steve Saka knows the “bold, full-flavored” gospel chapter & verse. So, even with its ebony-clad broadleaf and Dominican ligero, the Mi Querida Triqui Traca No. 648 shakes out plenty of refinement for cigar smokers with a developing palate. – Gary
Mi Querida Cigar Review
Size: Short Gordo Grande (4¾” x 56, a Famous exclusive size)
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua
Construction: An attractive looking cigar with a corpulent shape. The wrapper is thick, toothy, oily, and seamlessly rolled with a well-fashioned triple cap. The body is firm, with no soft spots, and despite its extra-wide ring gauge, the cigar feels comfortable. The wrapper also gives off a rich, hay-like scent.
Pre-light flavor: Cedar and sweet tobacco.
Toasting & Light: The cigar lit well with initial notes of loam, sweet tobacco, and black pepper.
Base flavors: Cedar, earth, leathery sweetness, espresso, peppery spice.
Burn & Ash Quality: The cigar burned evenly and remained cool throughout. The ash was also impressive; mostly grey in color and firm.
Balance of flavors: Impressive.
This particular shape, which is sold exclusively at Famous Smoke Shop, has plenty of curb appeal. The smoke is earthy, creamy, medium in body and offers a long, peppery finish. The cedar rises to the top as the first act progresses, plus some sweetness similar to the sweet scent of fresh leather.
The cigar continues its creamy-smooth course into the midsection, while new characters arrive in the form of lightly sweetened espresso, some nuttiness, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. Most impressive is the cigar’s smoothness and the way in which it is able to maintain such excellent balance. And here again, you don’t want to rush this cigar.
This Short Gordo burns impressively cool for its size, too. Even in the last couple of inches it retains its uber-creaminess, medium body, and even some additional sweetness arrives. There’s still a fine layer of earth down below and a hint of pepper on the finish, but the woody elements and espresso have the spotlight.
Like the Mi Querida Triqui Traca, the Short Gordo Grande is full-flavored and is a luxury cruise for cigar smokers who crave prime Connecticut Broadleaf. There’s plenty of dense, chewy smoke to savor, and the profile is so creamy, even less experienced cigar smokers will get a lot of satisfaction from it. – Gary
Muestra de Saka Cigar Review
Size: Unstolen Valor (6” x 52 Toro)
Wrapper: Ecuador Habano
Construction: Dark, slightly toothy, and rolled exceptionally well.
Pre-light flavor: Fruity, especially a poignant berry note.
Toasting & Light: Damp earth and coffee.
Base flavors: Coffee, earth, nuts, and peppers.
Retrohale: Flowery and sweet with pepper following close behind.
Aroma: Salty and buttery. Kind of like popcorn.
Burn & Ash Quality: A little flaky at times, but I was in heavy winds and that’s expected.
This is Dunbarton’s tip of the spear…Muestra de Saka. A cigar that Steve Saka said will allow a smoker to “catch a glimpse into the cigarmaker’s soul.” Let’s see how my sample fares.
Muestra starts off with a big berry note on the pre-light, followed by coffee and damp earth notes during the setup. By the half inch mark, the cigar’s smoke has blossomed into a four-course meal of flowers, zest, leather, and black pepper. I didn’t pair mine with anything – not even water – and I’m glad I didn’t. There are lots of little things – like bursts of sweetness and savoriness – my palate is picking up that would likely have been lost in the sauce.
The next significant change comes about midway through my sample. The flavors I’m picking up are nutty and sweet, leaning toward the sweeter side. Additionally, floral notes really pop through the nose on the retrohale, which also boasts an even sweeter side than Muestra’s typical mouth draw at this point.
This cigar closes out with notes of veggies and earth with some salt in the background. All in all, this is a stick that Saka fans are sure to love – it’s got his blending style written all over it – but really, any full-bodied fan will find a lot to write home about. – Jared
Sin Compromiso Cigar Review
Size: Seleccion No. 2 (6″x 52 box-pressed Torpedo)
Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua
Construction: The box-pressing is flawless on this attractive Torpedo. The capa is also exquisite. Rich and oily, seamlessly rolled with an equally skilled closure at the head. The band is also a grabber, and most of the cigar is shielded by a cedar sleeve. The body is evenly packed and the cigar is comfortable to hold.
Pre-light flavor: Intensely leathery with an underlying sweetness.
Toasting & Light: The cigar lit well revealing a sweet, chocolaty flavor followed by black pepper.
Base flavors: Loam, leather, black pepper, cedar, dark chocolate, nutmeg.
Burn & Ash Quality: Excellent. Even all-around.
Balance of flavors: Excellent.
Let’s start with how this cigar’s stark black & white band contrast against its capa is striking, virtually telegraphing that you’re holding something very special. The No. 2 even looks like a work of art.
The cold draw is very leathery with an added “sweetness” that tastes like barnyard aroma. A sweet, chocolaty start swiftly leads to a loamy, peppery flavor that dominates through the first half-inch. Once the cigar settles into the first act, some of the pepper fades and rounds-out to a more homogeneous mix with a gritty, black pepper finish.
Once you get to the heart of this cigar it unfolds and rises like a circus tent. Earth, leather, cedar, black pepper, and 90% cacao chocolate lead the procession. This is deep, dark, fat smoke that meets you head-on, and the best thing you can do is sit back and let it drive. This Sin Compromiso isn’t just a “Nicaraguan cigar,” it’s a NICARAGUAN cigar.
The final third shows more diversity. Things begin to sweeten up where they would normally begin to sour. Balanced yet often impulsive, this is a fine example of bold, not strong, and it’s important to know the difference. DT&T doesn’t do “strong”. . .PERIOD. Imagine this figurado with a well-aged bourbon or single malt. Yes.
The Sin Compromiso Sel. No. 2 Torpedo is complexity personified. Add the depth of its roots and this is a full-flavored, full-bodied cigar tailor–made for cigar smokers with an adept experience level. – Gary
Todos Las Dias Cigar Review
Size: Thick Lonsdale “MF” (6” x 46)
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Sun Grown Criollo
Construction: Chestnut brown criollo has a bit of fine tooth and a tiny glint of oil. A squeeze shows the body has some give. Nice pigtail.
Draw: Fine – only minor resistance.
Pre-light flavor: Has a hearty scent, fermented tobacco and coffee beans. The taste is earth and oak tannins.
Toasting & Light: Leather and pepper, enough to get the lips tingling.
Base flavors: Cured tobacco, earth, leather, roasted coffee.
Retrohale: Powerful; spicy, earthy and sweet.
Aroma: Slightly floral.
Burn & Ash Quality: Burns wonky and leaves a dark grey ash. Needs a few relights to get to the finish.
You know how some blenders have a “thing”? Gary doesn’t think so, but I happen to believe that Saka’s thing is power: even on the prelight, Todos Las Dias feels like a coiled spring just waiting to unwind. “For me, this spicy Nicaraguan puro reflects no pretentious airs or any of that ‘notes of pencil lead with a hint of fennel’ nonsense,” says Saka…and he can say what he wants. But the fact is, Todos Las Dias is a kitchen sink smoke; as in, it seems like there’s a little bit of everything to taste in there. Everything. From roasted nuts to peat to black cherry to earth, wood and pepper. There is no clear frontrunning flavor until about the 1/3 mark, when the finish picks up a zesty citrus with some consistency. The smoke pokes the tongue with pepper, too.
Saka also says this is “intended solely for the seasoned cigar smoker.” Perhaps you see that as a challenge; don’t get me wrong, it’s not a punch in the gut. But this little fella must have some serious high priming power leaf. “Vigorous” is a useful word here: I take a couple of puffs to get some smoke up so I can take a picture, and boy, does that get the heart rate up.
One of the more complex – and powerful – cigars I’ve smoked in a while. So if you like things like Joya Antaño Dark Corojo, I think you’ll find a similar level of satisfaction in Todos Las Dias. – John