Ah, the holidays. The stretch from late October through early January is one of my favorite times of year for enjoying cigars. All of the delicious holiday aromas mingling with rich tobacco smoke is very nostalgic for me, having grown up around men who smoked pipes and cigars in the house without restriction. Looking back on that time, I can’t help but feel that, had the Stillwell Star lineup of cigars existed back then, they would have been the smoke of choice throughout the year… More so, when taking into account today’s review cigar—StillWell Star Holiday Y2022—I’m positive this would have been the cigar of choice for family and guests to enjoy during the holidays.
The StillWell Star Holiday Y2022 (whew, that’s a mouthful) is the newest creation from the mind of master blender and owner of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, Steve Saka. It is a continued collaborative effort between Dunbarton and Jeremy Reeves, production manager and head blender at Cornell & Diehl, which is one of America’s largest pipe tobacco companies. In a statement released by Steve Saka, he goes into a little bit of an explanation and background for this limited-edition blend:
“A tradition in Pipe Culture is for carvers to craft one-off pipe designs and for blenders to create special mixtures to smoke and celebrate the Holidays. In honor of this practice, it was always my intention to follow suit within our StillWell Star line of puros. This year’s release is a delightful aromatic puro with a carefully balanced selection of mild Cavendish Burley and choice Virginia tobaccos incorporated. Unlike the Aromatic No. 1 in the core line, this Holiday release does not feature a dulce cabeza, however the tobaccos themselves are wonderfully sweet to the tongue – the flavor and aroma are nothing short of exceptional. Personally, I find the smoking experience to be like sipping a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows fireside.”
If you would like to read more about the lineup, our Stillwell Star complete brand overview provides a condensed review of each of the previous four cigars in the series.
StillWell Star Holiday Y2022 Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
- Binder: Mexican San Andrés Negro
- Filler: Nicaragua | Cavendish Burley | Virginia
- Factory: Fábrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua, S.A. (Nicaragua)
- Production: Limited (32,500 cigars)
- Vitola: 6″ × 52 (Toro)
- Price: $15.30 (MSRP)
Staying true to the StillWell Star original band design, the holiday edition has a tweaked version, replacing the royal blue with crisp white. Though minor, the effect on the visual appearance of the cigar is significant. Mind you, this is the same wrapper that is applied to all of the StillWell Star cigars in the lineup, but the white/gold palette has the result of lightening the wrapper, taking on more of a milk chocolate hue (as opposed to the darker coffee color when combined with the original royal blue). Construction on the cigar is as I would expect from any Dunbarton product—tight seams, even roll, with only minimal intrusion from the veins on the wrapper. The cigar is of average weight for its size. I find that when I press it between my fingers, there is a significant sponginess that gives me pause, and a wonder if I am going to have burn issues.
Clipping the head of the cigar, I find a more-than-adequate draw. There’s little resistance, yet easily flowing. Pungent dark chocolate is immediately noticeable on the cold draw. Alongside it is a strong barnyard flavor and light vinegar. Deeply inhaling the foot of the cigar, I am greeted with a much more pleasantly sweet, aromatic chocolate and rich tobacco aroma. The pipe tobacco is far more noticeable on the foot of the cigar versus the cold draw. It will be interesting to see how this translates when lit.
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Giving the foot of the Stillwell Star Holiday Y2022 a thorough toasting with my triple torch, I take a few slow puffs and a swirl of pipe tobacco aroma immediately surrounds me. It’s distinctly sweet and chocolatey. I feel like I’m bending to the power of suggestion, but it reminds me of my childhood at my grandparents’ house in the winter. My grandma would make hot cocoa on the stove top, and it would simmer there all afternoon while I played in the snow. The combination of the hot cocoa and the lingering pipe tobacco smell that permeated their house from my grandfather’s pipe is exactly what the room note from the cigar is.
Moving to the flavor of the smoke itself, a mild profile of tangy and slightly bitter chocolate is dominant, with dry cinnamon and light hickory wood on the backend. Overall, the smoke is rather light and not very coating. It’s an average start, and I hope that the experience picks up.
Now that I am past first light, the flavors are easily discernible. Mexican hot chocolate mixes with an almost-harsh wood note. It varies between sweet/pleasant and rough/bitter. The retrohale has a white pepper note that zings the nostrils, as well as some dry cinnamon and what I can only describe as lemon zest. The flavor is a light mild/medium, body is mild/medium as well, and strength is a nearly-unnoticeable mild. The draw has snugged up ever so slightly, but is still a respectable 7/10. The ash is falling in half-inch chunks, which aren’t holding very tight to the cigar.
As half of the cigar sits in the ashtray beside me, a theme has presented itself; a theme of extreme contrasts. Now, before you think that this is a negative, let me explain. The room note is distinctly pipe tobacco laden. Sweet and enticing notes of cocoa and cinnamon mix with molasses in the air, and even my wife asks me what I am smoking when she comes into the room. All of that sweet, aromatic pipe tobacco doesn’t translate nearly as much in the smoking profile itself. The smoke, although flavorful, doesn’t hold nearly as much of those flavors, and what it does have are distinctly different from the room note. The sweet cocoa in the air presents itself as a semi-sweet chocolate, and the cinnamon spice sets on the palate as more of a dry and woody cinnamon with little in the way of sweetness. The body has picked up to a medium (matching the flavor), with the strength a half-step back at a mild/medium. A couple of new flavors have shown up, registering as a light leather and clove. They almost seem out of place to the overall profile. However, this addition has my interest in the cigar piqued as I continue through to the end.
Smoking past the band of the StillWell Star Holiday Y2022, I am delighted to finally get what I deem as “Christmas-like” flavors. The primary flavor I am picking up can only be described as a chocolate-covered cinnamon roll—very decadent and smooth. This is really satisfying my sweet tooth. In the background, anise cookies make an appearance, though ever so lightly. The cigar has settled into its groove, and is a very relaxing smoke. The burn has been slightly wavy throughout the smoking experience, but has never required a touch-up. Flavor and body are holding at a medium, with the strength at a steady mild/medium.
As I take the closing puffs of the toro, I find myself basking in the room note. It’s sweet and decadent, checking all of the boxes for me as far as holidays of my youth are concerned. The smoke itself has dropped most of the flavors I’ve mentioned throughout the review, and now only a damp wood and roasted nuttiness remain. With only an inch of the 6″ x 52 toro remaining, I must say that that it stands as a testament to how well the cigar is constructed that it burns so gracefully into nub territory.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Without a doubt. While not as balanced as some of the other StillWell Star lines, the Holiday Y2022 is a wonderful go-between for cigar and pipe smokers alike. The flavors and room notes took me back to my childhood on my grandparents’ farm, and if a cigar can evoke an emotional response, you bet I am going to smoke it again. I really think Steve Saka hit the mark by not having the stick be sweet-tipped (setting it apart from the StillWell Star Aromatic No. 1). This allows you to really get the tobaccos’ flavors without any masking. This blend has quickly become my favorite of the StillWell Stars (which is a good band name, by the way), and I am excited to hear that Steve will be doing a “Christmas in July” release of this blend again in 2023.
- The StillWell Star Holiday Y2022 was awarded Cigar Dojo’s Unconventional Cigar of the Year for 2022.
- As of this writing, the StillWell Star Holiday Y2022 ranks 334/4.4k cigars on Dojoverse, scored with a “99% smokable” rating.
- Flavor: Medium
- Strength: Mild / Medium
- Body: Medium
- Semi-sweet chocolate
- Dry cinnamon
- Mexican hot chocolate
- Black pepper
- Anise cookie
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Earl Grey or English breakfast tea | Aged rum | White Russian | Espresso martini
- Purchase Recommendation: If you enjoyed previous Stillwell Star blends, this is box-worthy
- Amazing room aroma
- Great first (or last) cigar
- Nice change-up stick
- Flavors are unlike most traditional cigars
- May be too mild for some smokers
- Price point is a little high for an “outside the box” cigar like this