Espinosa Cigars – Mi Barrio
Here at Casas Fumando we are always open to guest reviews, and this most recent guest review has come to use from Jeff Oda in Seattle. Jeff has been a long time reader and probably the most active reader/commenter on our site for some time. Over the last few years Jeremy and I have had contact contact with the guy, traded sticks, and even pulled off a few beer trades. You guys should all be well aware of Jeff by now, but if you aren’t, he popped up in a guest review of the cigar that I created when I was in Nicaragua at the Drew Estate Cigar Safari last year and then again with an excellent review of Nomad’s Vagabond, one of EO Brands 601 Green Label, La Gloria Cubana’s Rabito de Cochino, Villiger’s La Libertad, Bonita Smoke Shop’s Time Warp Big Ben, Nomad C-276 Torpedo, L’Atelier Extension de la Racine ER13, Bodega Reunión Aperitivo and Digestivo by Bodega Premium Blends, Viva Republica Propaganda Disinformation, Toraño Vault D-042, Viaje Black 50/50, and his most recent review of the Villager Talanga Toro. He’s been racking them in, and at this rate we should be considering making him a regular! Please show him some love! – Tony
It looks like Casas Fumando has been on an Espinosa tear these past couple of weeks. First, Jeremy reviewed the La Zona-made MoyaRuiz La Jugada Nunchuck, then Tony looked into the Espinosa Alibi – Backroom Series, and if that wasn’t enough, Jeremy again dipped into the Espinosa arsenal by taking on Sensei’s Sensational Sarsaparilla. Today, I’ll be looking at another Espinosa-made cigar that I have been wanting to review for some time now, the Mi Barrio. I swear, this is all a coincidence! The Mi Barrio has been around for quite a while now, and I’m surprised that no one at Casas Fumando has ever done a review on it.
The Mi Barrio was introduced back in 2008 by what was then EO Brands. It was blended and manufactured in limited amounts by Don Pepin Garcia and went for a premium price, while being released in a different size annually. It was intended as a tribute to both Don Pepin and Erik Espinosa’s father Orestes Sr., a good friend of Pepin, who were depicted on the box and label. When EO split up, the brand reverted to Erik Espinosa, and manufacturing was shifted to the La Zona factory in Nicaragua. Since then, information is difficult to come by, as the Espinosa website doesn’t have them listed among their cigars, but I reached out to Famous Smoke Shop in an effort to gather more recent info. I would like to extend a big “thank you” to Gary Korb at Famous who was nice enough to respond to my inquiry and provided the following information (he is also the head honcho at Cigar Advisor):
“Yes, the Mi Barrio line is now being made at La Zona in Nicaragua by Erik Espinosa, and have been for several years now. They are also exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop. The original Pepin blend was not exclusive.
The original blend was made by Don Pepin for Erik’s and Eddie Ortega’s E/O Brands. When the company split, Erik took over the blending at his factory. The Pepin made cigars used to sell for over $200 a box. Even though both blends are puros, there is a difference in flavor between the Pepin and the Espinosa version, which is most likely due to the difference in the age, harvests, fermentation, etc. of the respective tobaccos.”
So, the Mi Barrio is now indeed an exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop. They now come in five different sizes: Robusto – 5.75×52; El Acere (toro) – 6×50; El Billetero (torpedo) – 5.75×52; El Forro – 7×48; and El Puro – 7.5×52. I haven’t smoked enough of the original Pepin-made ones to be able to discern a great difference between them, but I have had a pretty fair amount of the newer ones, and so here is my take on them…
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Size: El Billetero Torpedo 5.75×52
Price: $10.40 MSRP for singles; but much lower by the box, and frequently on sale for even less
Smoking time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Pairing: Fremont Abominable Winter Ale (8% ABV)
The Mi Barrio El Billetero comes draped in an oily and uniformly dark chocolate brown Habano wrapper with a few noticeable veins and a sharply pointed cap. The pack is firm throughout, and is adorned with a band depicting a street scene of Havana with an old classic car in the foreground. This is a departure from the Garcia/Orestes Espinosa portrait in the older cigars, although it is by the same artist who produced the original bands (Mr. Korb told me that there is no significance regarding the banding and blending, other than that the newer bands are not quite up to the quality of the older ones). The wrapper gives off a very light sour barnyard and tobacco scent, while the foot has more of a lightly earthy tobacco with a bit of pepper tickling my nose. The cold draw has just the right amount of resistance for me and doesn’t show much more than a very light tobacco.
Once lit, it doesn’t take much puffing to get a nice mouthful of musty earth, leather, and a savory note that I can’t quite pin down from the Mi Barrio. The pepper is light on the palate, but lets you know it is there on the retrohale. Halfway through the initial third, the pepper has all but disappeared and some wood has emerged, while the burn has been a bit wavy, but of no concern. At this point, the body of cigar is at medium. Soon after, a bit of sweet spice begins to lurk in the background and the ash taps off at over 1-1/2”.
Entering the second third of the Mi Barrio, the smooth smoke has taken on lightly toasted bread notes, while the savory flavor has away completely. The burn line has sharpened considerably and is burning nearly dead-even. The pepper begins to make a comeback, but not in a big way, as the rounded tobacco, light leather, and oak continue to drive the cigar. The bread notes and faint sweetness are joined by some bitter black coffee in the background, as the body begins to creep toward the medium/full range.
Down to the wire
After fifty-five minutes of smoking the Mi Barrio, I’m entering the final third, and it has finally blossomed into a creamy smoke with sweet toasty bread at the forefront, while the oak has turned more cedar-y. The earth has stepped back and pepper, while still on the light side, provides a nice complement to the experience. I’m forced to give the cigar its first touch-up a little further down, but it’s quick and painless. The body has remained at medium/full, while the strength has suddenly crept up to the high side of medium and rising.
Okay, I take back what I said about not being able to tell the difference between the Pepin-made and Espinosa Mi Barrios. I recall the Pepins to be darker in flavor and a bit higher in body; a little more “brooding”or deep, but this was still a very enjoyable smoke. The previous Espinosa Mi Barrros I had were also (if I recall correctly) a bit deeper in flavor and body than this one. While the MSRP for singles may seem high, the box prices, and the fact that these are frequently on sale at Famous and up for grabs on Cigar Monster for significantly lower prices (and I mean in the $4-$5 range), makes the Mi Barrio a cigar well worth looking into. I know that I will keep grabbing five-packs at least to keep in my humidor.
What, another Fremont ale? Well, yes! The Abominable Winter Ale by Seattle’s Fremont Brewing is a seasonal strong ale that boasts dark fruits, cocoa, and a not overwhelming sweetness of dark malts, backed by a great balancing hoppy-ness (hoppiness? happiness?), while carrying an ABV of 8%. While this iteration of the Mi Barrio turned out to be a bit lighter than I was expecting, the Abominable still did a great job matching up with the flavors the cigar had to offer, and helped to bring out some of the latent flavors of the Mi Barrio. Alternate pairings would include a sweet bourbon or rum, a fruity red wine, or just about any beer that displays a dark, malty profile without a ton of overly bitter hops.