J.C. Newman Cigar Co. made it clear in the spring of 2019 that they would be focusing on their American heritage throughout the year, announcing both a multimillion-dollar renovation of their Tampa-based factory and an all-American ultra-premium cigar to go along with it. It was then quite the surprise when the company unveiled an additional project at the 2019 IPCPR trade show—an unconventionally rolled cigar dubbed Yagua.

The inspiration for Yagua came from Lazaro Lopez, factory manager at J.C. Newman’s Nicaraguan-based PENSA factory. Lopez recalls memories of his grandfather creating oddly-shaped cigars in the tobacco fields of Cuba during the 1940s. Lacking the proper molds used by cigar factories, he would bunch and roll the cigars into crude cylinders, securing bundles of the tobacco in tightly bound strips of palm trees known as yagua (Cuba’s royal palm tree). This served as a mold of sorts, pressing the bunched leaves together until they could hold their shape and be smoked.

“At our family farm, my grandfather would take fresh tobacco leaves from the curing barns and roll cigars without any molds or presses. In an attempt to give his cigars a traditional shape, he would tie a handful of them together using pieces of the Cuban royal palm tree, known as the yagua. When he was ready to enjoy his personal cigars, he untied the bundle. He loved how every cigar had its own unique shape. I still remember the rich aroma and taste of my grandfather’s cigars. Today, I’ve recreated Yagua, rolling them exactly how my grandfather did a century ago.”

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Yagua Breakdown

  • Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Factory: J.C. Newman PENSA (Nicaragua)
  • Production: Small Batch (1,000 boxes of 20 cigars for 2020)
  • Vitola: 6″ x 54 (Toro)
  • Price: $7.50 (MSRP)

Despite making their debut at the industry trade show during the summer of 2019, the cigars were a ways from completion. Little was heard from the brand for a full year, with J.C. Newman eventually announcing the cigars were ready for shipment in July. This included a wrapper change from the original debut, swapping the Nicaraguan puro recipe of the pre-release for a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper on the finished product. The cigars were rolled in roughly 6″ x 54 toro formats (as there is a fair bit of variation from cigar to cigar), being limited to 20,000 cigars for 2020.

Appearance

The look is a key selling point with this brand, and J.C. Newman delivers. The cigars arrive still bound in the namesake yagua material. This bundle is housed in a black, crate-like box, having an appropriately rustic feel. Where the cigars veer slightly from the “farm fresh” feel is the bands, which feel appropriate to the time period, but not necessarily the cigar’s concept (as you’d expect them to be band-less). Of course, this is completely understandable, and the thin-style bands make for a pleasing, old-school feel.

As advertised, every cigar in the yagua-bound bundle comes with a shape as unique as snowflakes—some are three-sided, some five-sided, others seven-sided, etc. The cigar photographed for review had a trapezoid look to it, which you can see from the image of the cigar’s foot. Squeezing the toro, the cigar feels medium to medium-plus in tobacco density; it has a bit more give to it than an ordinary parejo, though it is relatively consistent from head to toe. The wrapper is somewhat gnarly—not uncommon for Broadleaf—showing bumps, twists, plenty of veins, and some color mottling.

The wrapper gives off strong aromas of cumin, as well as maple syrup, hickory, and other foreign spices. The foot brings out notes of raw peppercorn, cinnamon, cumin, and corn chips. With a straight cut, the pre-light draw ranges from wet hardwoods, to Coca-Cola Cherry, curry, and sweet earth.

Click images below for full resolution

Smoking Experience

Aside from the odd feel of the cigar resting against your lips, the first thing you may notice is a zesty pepper rush through the nostrils. It definitely has enough going on in the retrohale to grab your attention, though it’s not in the realm of sneeze-inducing pepper bombs. This includes added flavors of chili powder and corn chips, as well as warm and fall-like room aromas. With the cigar smoked for this writing, the draw was on the firm side, often requiring double (or triple) puffs to bring out the desired amount of smoke. This is not surprising, given the cigar’s unique concept, but I’ve found that the majority of samples I’ve smoked did not share this fault.

J.C. Newman Yagua cigar smoking

An added bonus with this cigar is the taste of the raw tobacco against the tongue, injecting a tart sensation that adds complexity to the smoke. The profile builds from essentially medium on all fronts to medium-plus in flavor and body by the two-inch mark, leaving the strength roughly where it started. Black pepper and sweet earth seem to describe the cigar’s essence, but there are other flavors vying for your attention. These are primarily in the sweet region, such as a flavor along the lines of Swiss Miss hot chocolate powder (mostly vanilla with a touch of cocoa), dark stone fruit, and hard candy.

Surprisingly, the cigar shows an impressively straight burn line, though the ash is somewhat flakey and sporadic. The cigar continues with the strength laid out previously, with flavors seemingly intensifying in their various categories. Stone fruit becomes a more specific ripe cherry, Swiss Miss evolves into red chile dark chocolate bar, and previous spices now show up more along the lines of chicory or black licorice. The smoke texture is dense and vaporous, riding out through the finale with toasted-yet-sweet flavors similar to Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal.

J.C. Newman Yagua cigar ash

Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?

Yes. This is a fun cigar, through and through. From the unboxing process to the unique look and feel, Yagua conveys a nostalgic, authentic aura. You simply can’t smoke this cigar and not be transported to the tobacco fields of Pinar del Río, circa 1940. The narrative sets the stage and the cigar does not disappoint; combine this with a price point under eight dollars and you have yourself a winner.

Additional Info
  • While the cigars are placed in the yagua palm while still wet, they’d had time to rest before shipping to consumers in August. However, in my experience, they did smoke a bit on the wet/soupy side at launch; similar to a fresh-rolled cigar. I found a noticeable difference in the cigar’s performance with a few months’ age, offering better complexity, a more steady burn, and added depth through the finish.

Profile
  • Flavor: Medium-plus
  • Strength: Medium
  • Body: Medium-plus
Core Flavors
  • Corn chips
  • Foreign spices
  • Sweet earth
  • Red chile dark chocolate
Tips
  • Smoke Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
  • Pairing Recommendation: Prairie BOMB! | Medium-roast coffee (black) | Root beer
  • Purchase Recommendation: Box

J.C. Newman Yagua cigar nub finished

Yagua
As much as self-proclaimed connoisseurs hate to admit, a good chunk of near-any enjoyable smoking experience resides within the cigar's narrative and/or appearance. Personally, this is a facet I've always embraced. Milk tastes better when it's poured from a glass bottle. In a blind test, there'd be no perceivable difference between milk from a glass bottle and milk from a plastic jug. And yet, the glass-bottle milk elevates my perceived enjoyment (as much as one can enjoy milk) of the drink—why should I fight against this? There's a lot riding on the narrative with Yagua, and it works. Sure, there are inconsistencies and imperfections, but it's all part of the fun. Taking the cigar's modest price point into account, these criticisms are easily outweighed by the fun and enjoyable experience Yagua delivers.
Appearance89%
Burn/Construction91%
Draw84%
Flavor91%
Complexity86%
Price/Value93%
Pros
  • Fun and engaging concept
  • Dense smoke texture
  • Nice contrast of earthiness, tartness, and sweetness
Cons
  • Double puffs from firm draw
  • Inconsistencies between samples
  • Cigars needed a couple of months' age after initial shipment
89%Farm Fresh
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