Cigar Review: Flor de Las Antillas
2012 was a fantastic year for the cigar business. New brands emerged, new cigars from existing brands were introduced, new sizes were brought out. In addition, some of the most successful boutique companies were born and given their claim to fame. Social media was beginning to thrive, and the cigar community as a whole grew along with it, thus giving more exposure to hot new cigars on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the Garcia family in Nicaragua was about to shock and awe everyone in the world of cigars with what would become one of their most massively successful projects of all time, a cigar that would change the way we see the My Father brand and blow the minds of connoisseurs and aficionados the world over. This stick would instantly be revered as one of the greatest cigars in recent history, one to bring an even brighter spotlight on the My Father name. The cigar that would accomplish this was Flor de las Antillas.
Named after Cuba, the largest of the Greater Antilles Islands, as well as the homeland of My Father Cigars head honcho and owner Don Pepin Garcia, Flor de las Antillas literally translates to "Flower of the Antilles," one of the many endearing nicknames given to the land of Cuba. In all actuality, the success of this stick was kind of a fluke. It remains as one of the most affordable lines in the otherwise high-end (and pricey) My Father portfolio. It was released quietly, without a huge introduction, and made its debut as an un-banded celebratory cigar at Federal Cigar's 91st birthday party in March of 2012. It was officially released shortly after but would remain unnoticed for the most part until about January of the following year. Why January? Well, by January, the cigar-smoking public had feasted their eyes on Cigar Aficionado's list of the Top 25 Cigars of 2012. To the surprise of many, a well-known big name wasn't residing at the top spot. A cigar many had never heard of, from a brand everyone, has come to know and love was proudly displayed on the page of "Number 1 Cigar of 2012." It was no other than Flor de las Antillas. As it turned out, Flor de las Antillas had earlier in the year received an unprecedented 96 rating in the magazine that many consider the commanding authority on cigar reviews. At the time, it was the highest rating any cigar from the My Father Factory in Nicaragua had ever received, as well as one of the highest non-Cuban cigar ratings the magazine had ever dished out. This was quite an accomplishment for Don Pepin and company.
If you're reading this, odds are you know at least a little something about the cigar business. Chances are you know who Don Pepin is, how he's a living legend in the world of cigars. How he once rolled 320 cigars in 4 hours and was ranked as Cuba's most productive and skilled cigar rollers before coming to America and opening his own small boutique in Little Havana. You probably know how he collaborated with the likes of Ernesto Padilla in his early years, made cigars for the legendary Ashton Cigar Company, and churned out some of the biggest boutique hits of all time, such as his world-famous Blue Label, the luxurious powerhouse San Cristobal, and later the bold, opulent masterpiece, My Father, after which his current state-of-the-art factory in Nicaragua is named. You probably know how Don Pepin is one of the most successful cigar makers and blenders in history, and that it seems impossible for him to make a bad cigar. And you may even know that his son, Jaime, and daughter, Janny are also in the cigar business, co-running the My Father brand and pumping out some of their own lines as well. So I'll spare you on the family history. Flor de las Antillas is somewhat of a father-son collaboration of sorts, making the best of the expertise of both master blenders and showcasing it in one phenomenal cigar.
Flor de las Antillas is a Nicaraguan puro and a darned fine one at that. Made entirely of extremely high-end filler tobacco from the Garcias' farms in Esteli and topped off with a one-of-a-kind sun grown Corojo wrapper leaf from the family's Las Marias farm in the Namanji region, Flor de las Antillas was years in the making. The Garcias don't skimp on their aging process, and they definitely don't spare expenses when it comes to top-grade Cuban seed tobacco. Don Pepin is a stickler for Cubanesque flavor and intensity, so the tobacco selection is of utmost priority. It's no wonder why so many big names have collaborated with him and his family over the years. Nicaragua is home to some of the finest tobacco on the planet, and the Nicaraguan tobacco market is dominated by only a handful of big names, among whom are the likes of Oliva, Padron, Plasencia, and of course, Garcia. Perhaps owning and operating his own farms is a way to keep the price down on stellar sticks such as Flor de las Antillas. Either way, a retail of usually $7-9 per cigar is ridiculously reasonable for a cigar of this stature.
Flor de las Antillas is offered in 5 sizes: a 5” x 50 Robusto, a 5 1/2” x 52 Belicoso, the massive 6 1/2” x 56 Toro Gordo and 6” x 60 Toro Grande, and of course the highly acclaimed, 96-rated 6” x 52 Toro. The shade of the outer leaf is a reddish brown, with the appearance of suede leather. Though the tobacco itself has a rugged appearance, the construction is beautiful, boasting the Pepin signature double wrapper and triple cap. The band resembles an antique painting of sorts, giving Flor de las Antillas a nostalgic feel. The box press is very pronounced on all sizes and the packing is always full, even, and firm. Overall, it's a gorgeous stick that screams "SMOKE ME!" Speaking of, let's get to it already.
Dry puffing Flor de las Antillas is beautiful. The warm nuances of cinnamon, cocoa, and spice are so obvious it seems to make you hungry for a dessert. Lighting up, well, that's a different story. It's amazing how literally none of the dry puff flavors seem to show up during the smoking process, at least not early off. I know what you're probably thinking if you have no experience with this cigar, that it's a Don Pepin stick and it's loaded with palate-blasting white pepper. Well, truth is that there is actually very little pepper at all, making this a Pepin cigar you probably aren't used to. This could be a great thing for some, but a letdown for others. For me personally, I welcome with open arms the immense spice most Pepin cigars carry. I quite enjoy the intensity and full-bodied goodness that I've come to get used to from Don Pepin over the years. Flor de las Antillas is different, though. It's tame, soft, subtle. It's not mild by any means, just not wild either. The body is there, the flavor is there, but it's more about the smoothness than the spice when it comes to Flor de las Antillas.
The opening sequence is slight pepper, earth, and aged tobacco. Full-bodied, medium-flavored. As it continues, the earthiness gains strength, dominating the blend, yet never takes over the flavor profile completely. A very pronounced citrus note is thoroughly noticeable throughout the duration of the cigar, reminiscent of the background notes of a classic Punch cigar. I find this quite remarkable, as Don Pepin has literally never been known for such a blend as this. It's always been about pepper, tobacco, pepper, and more tobacco. If you've smoked many of his sticks, you know that to an extent they all taste very, very similar. In fact, some may notice little to no difference at all between Don Pepin's blends, save for the fact that maybe some are stronger than others. I think it's his Cuban roots and his passion for classic Cuban flavors that lead to this phenomenon. Regardless, Don Pepin's blending strategy has worked over the years, and he has the ratings to prove it. But I digress. Point is, Flor de Las Antillas is a completely new creation when we are talking about something coming out of the My Father factory.
Approaching the second third of the cigar, the pepper is just about completely gone. A few hints of cocoa and nutmeg pop up, similar to the notes on the dry puff, but they fade behind the very strong earth and citrus that seems to be what this blend revolves around. The finish is very smooth and the retrohale is heavy, with even more citrus hitting the nose on the way out. There is also a slight floral note that looms in the background, something like what comes with many Cameroon cigars, and it complements the overall profile beautifully. While quite complex, Flor de las Antillas is actually quite a simple cigar. It becomes more simple when paired with the correct beverage, which I'll get to shortly.
By the time the second third is finished, Flor de las Antillas has turned into a very strong cigar. The nicotine and tar are very heavy and some harshness begins to rear its ugly head. However, it's not exactly a tongue burner by any means, just a bit heavy for some, if not most. By the time Flor de las Antillas gets to about the 3-inch mark, most of the complexity has left and has been overtaken by darker, more basic flavor. A raw tobacco note with hints of coffee is constant, mingled with a very heavy nicotine presence. Still, despite a slight harshness on the top of the palate, Flor de las Antillas remains quite smokable all the way down to the nub. It's funny how the Garcias manage to mix full-bodied with smooth and smokable, as their cigars are so well known for being powerhouse sticks. They have somehow mastered the art of balance, something so many blenders fall short on. Either it's mild and smooth or bold and harsh. Only a handful of blenders take full-bodied cigars to the extreme and retain maximum smoke-ability. Don Pepin just seems like a natural when it comes to this.
And so, after all, is said and done, the slow-burning, medium-full-bodied Flor de Las Antillas makes a lasting impression on whoever is fortunate enough to enjoy it. Summed up, it starts off tame, with immense complexity, gains strength throughout the duration of the cigar, and finishes with simple flavor and maximum potency. It's literally a storybook of a cigar, and that's exactly what makes it so incredible. Flor de las Antillas is one of the most highly acclaimed sticks to ever come out of Nicaragua. And for good reason! I remember that after trying Flor de las Antillas for the first time, I immediately bought an entire box. It was just that good. It captivates and mesmerizes. It's difficult to explain; you just have to experience it for yourself.
Flor de las Antillas pairs well with just about any cigar-friendly libations, including the standard bourbon or scotch, but in my opinion, is complemented best with a good port wine. Ruby port seems to go best, as the sweetness complements the citrus note of Flor de las Antillas so beautifully, also helping to showcase the rich tobacco flavors of the cigar between sips. Would I call Flor de las Antillas an everyday cigar? Probably not, as it's just too special for that. Although, to say not to smoke one every day would be making a hypocrite of myself, as I tore through my box at record speed. Another reason I can't speak against making it a regular cigar in your rotation is the price. Flor de las Antillas is easily the most affordable cigar offered by the Garcia family in their regular lineup. At around half the price of their flagship My Father blend, Flor de las Antillas is pretty much a no-brainer, even if you've never tried one. As for comparable cigars, Padron 1964 seems to come to mind, as well as Oliva Serie V Melanio, both in their natural executions.
Flavor? Check. Versatility? Check. Price point? Check. Quality and consistency? Check. It would seem as though Flor de las Antillas is the perfect cigar. That is really not too far from the truth. If you've never tried Flor de las Antillas, I very, very strongly suggest you give it a shot, even if you have been made to shy away from Don Pepin's cigars over the years. Flor de las Antillas is a whole different experience. It's something anyone and everyone can enjoy, but obviously the more experienced you are, the more you will appreciate the blend. Whether relaxing in your favorite cigar lounge, sitting on your back patio, or lounging on the beach with your feet in the sand, you simply can't go wrong with Flor de las Antillas. It's about as close to perfect as a cigar can get.