There’s an old saying in the restaurant industry: “Want to make a million dollars opening a restaurant? Start with two million.” This statement illustrates just how hard it is to translate vision into success. I’ve worked in restaurants for the better part of 20 years, and I’ve seen too many heartbreaking failures, where someone has passion but lacks the understanding needed to make it something viable. The saddest examples are when the aspiring chef puts their heart and soul into a new venture, only to walk away a year later, befuddled, bitter, and bankrupt.
Certainly there are parallels in the cigar world—men with a love of cigars (and, preferably, a big chunk of money), who think they can break into the scene with their labor of love. Perhaps this hopeful entrepreneur is without delusions of wealth, only wanting to share their passion with others; though, sadly, destined to fail in the long run. That could’ve been the story of Omar de Frias… but, luckily for us, he took a different route. As I mentioned in the review of the Fratello Oro, Omar’s journey into cigars started after a pretty secure (at least I imagine) career working for NASA. To walk away from something like that, to pursue one’s private passion full time, requires the sort of chutzpah one would need to fly a giant tube strapped with rockets, blasting its way into space.
Yet here I am, reviewing the fifth line from the successful startup brand, established in 2013. Navetta, which means “shuttle” in Italian, comes in four sizes, each named after a different model of Space Shuttle (Discovery, Endeavor, Enterprise, and Atlantis). The theme of this cigar is celebration, says de Frias:
Fratello Navetta Discovery Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro
- Binder: Dominican Viso
- Filler: Nicaraguan Jalapa
- Factory: Fábrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua, S.A. (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5″ × 50 (Robusto)
- Price: $10.50 (MSRP)
There’s a whole lot of band going on here. So much of this cigar is covered that when the big bottom band is removed, the size of the cigar kind of surprises me; it seems strangely larger when naked. Once, I knew a woman who (I thought) was flat-chested, then one day I was like, “Hey, where did those come from?” There’s kind of a similar thing going on here (not sure if that analogy made my case more or less clear…). The bands are pretty nice. The classic Fratello-style chevron appearance is used on the primary band, and they altered the band’s three-leaf sub-logo design to instead showcase a cute little rocket ship. The bands are mostly white, depicting the heat-protective tiles used by the Space Shuttle. The box art utilizes a digital-style font that looks like something written on the Space Shuttle tiles themselves—pretty neat.
The wrapper isn’t as dark as some other “oscuro” cigars you may have tried. Smokers often think of oscuro as nearing full black, but this is not always the case, as some manufacturers use the term, when combined with Habano, to express that the leaf is simply a darker shade for Habano (as opposed to the ultra-dark hue often associated with the oscuro classification). This leaf is more of an oiled mahogany—deeper/richer, with a warm, reddish hue. The wrapper is smooth, oily, and mostly free of veins. The parejo cap is rounded and perfectly applied. This cigar is dense, with no soft spots from head to toe.
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There really isn’t a whole lot of aroma coming off the wrapper leaf—some mild barnyard and tobacco. There’s lots of sweetness from the foot of the cigar—kind of a sweet coffee reduction, along with some dark molasses. The cold draw, after using my 9mm punch cut, is ever-so-slightly tight. On a scale of -5 to +5—zero being perfect—this ranks as a “1” that might edge into a “2.”
Navetta is immediately sweet upon lighting, with a slowly blooming warmth on the tongue from a chile that I didn’t really detect in either the initial flavor or retrohale. None of the piquancy of spicy chile pepper is there, only the after-warmth sensation. Heavy, sweet coffee and chocolate notes abound, backed by a rich, inky black licorice. After 10 minutes I’m absolutely walloped with spicy pepper. Ka-POW! with an accompanying Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal essence. The burn line isn’t perfect, but hasn’t needed a touchup yet, offering a dense and attractive ash. There’s a definite caramelization of residual sugars that I can smell as well as taste. In addition, it’s one of the nicest room aromas of any cigar I can remember smoking in quite a while. After roughly 30 minutes through the first third, the cigar clocks in around medium-plus in strength, medium-full in flavor, and an all-around medium body.
The second third brings some pretty noticeable transitions, moving into chocolate-covered raisins, some grahams, and a more consistent, yet mild, pink peppercorn. Mexican Coca-Cola notes mingle with ginger molasses cookies sprinkled with crunchy turbinado sugar. At the middle of this cigar, the draw tightens up enough to require a bit of help, which was remedied with a pair of needle-nose pliers. There’s a coffee concoction happening here—some extremely dark-roasted, syrupy, Cuban-style coffee, the kind that you absolutely load with sugar to make it drinkable (and delicious). Ending the second third at 65 minutes, with a fairly equally distributed increase in strength and body (nearing full), with the biggest jump being that of flavor, into bonafide full territory.
The final third is all about the interplay of sweetness and spiciness. This is one of the sweetest cigars I’ve had in a while, and it has just the right elements to make it enjoyable without being overbearing or syrupy (in texture, differing from aforementioned flavor note). Flavors, despite being on the darker side (molasses, black licorice, dark coffee, etc.), are vibrant and clear, with a hint of charred, tangy, mesquite black peppercorn keeping it lively. Just sitting back and experiencing the lingering warmth of spice on the long finish, smacking my lips, the sweetness is rocking my world. With about an inch to go, I’d say the strength has moved past full and into strong territory.
This is a full-strength cigar done right. Nothing is overpowering, launch trajectory was just right as it ramped up into big-boy territory, and it only gets better as it goes. Some fuller cigars can overshoot the mark, with the last third being bitter, charred, earthy, etc., but not this one. It takes a good thing, and increases its intensity, turning it up to 11. Buckwheat pancakes with blackberry molasses—that’s where Navetta finishes up.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
You bet! This is billed as a special, celebratory cigar, and it carries the heftiest price tag of any of the other Fratello releases (yet still modestly priced in greater “cigardom”), but it’s good enough to find reasons to celebrate the everyday achievements of life. Another winner from Fratello.
- Flavor: Full
- Strength: Medium / Full
- Body: Medium-Plus
- Sweet coffee
- Chocolate-covered raisins
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Sweet Cuban coffee, Sierra Nevada Chili Chocolate Stout, Stagg Jr. bourbon
- Purchase Recommendation: Box split
- Sweetness without being syrupy
- Clean flavors
- Gets progressively better without falling off
- One sample contained a draw-impeding large midrib
- May be a touch on the strong side for some