Willy Herrera is arguably one of the most talented blenders in the business right now. He is a man who has been deeply entrenched in cigars and tobacco from a young age, having been introduced to the industry by his grandfather at El Titan de Bronze’s cigar factory in Little Havana, Miami, FL. In due time, Willy Herrera would go on to largely take over the operations and lead blending responsibilities for El Titan de Bronze. At this point, Herrera slowly but surely started garnering respect for his distinct blending profile, and classic Cuban rolling approach. While his skill has now long been recognized by those within the industry, it wasn’t until 2011 when Willy joined up with monolith that is Drew Estate that more casual enthusiasts began to take notice. Much to the credit of Drew Estate, they had the wisdom and patience to let Willy lock himself in the vaults of Drew Estate’s factory for over a year to really soak in the vast amount of tobaccos available to him. Willy Herrera took his time until he final found a blend that he knew was worthy of baring both his own name and the name of Drew Estate. This cigar, of course, is the Herrera Esteli, which began hitting retail shelves at the tail-end of 2012. This cigar showcased Will Herrera’s distinctly Cuban blending prowess, and went on to score high rankings on nearly every year-end list.
Fast forward just several short months, and whispers began to echo of a new project from Mr. Herrera. Little was known publicly, except for one detail – that it would be a maduro. This was confirmed when Drew Estate founder Jonathan Drew posted a picture of one of the test blends, confirming that it was a maduro. A number of months later we learned the name – the Norteno. The word Norteno refers to the people in the Northern parts of Nicaragua, namely Esteli.
Today we have the pleasure of knowing the full details of the Norteno, and the pleasure of smoking one. We were also lucky enough to get to speak to Willy at length about the Norteno and a variety of other topics in an upcoming interview, which will be released in the coming weeks.
Cigar: Herrera Esteli Norteno
Size: 4 3/4 x 48
Wrapper: Mexican San Andreas
Appearance and Pre-light Aroma:
The Herrera Esteli Norteno is a subtle light brown with dark spots throughout. The wrapper is neither oily nor toothy. The cigar is fully boxed pressed, and is incredibly smooth despite the lack of oil. Roll lines and veins are both able to be picked out visually, but are by in large a non-factor.
The foot on the Norteno smells refreshing, with a hefty range of barnyard notes. Most pronounced is that of freshly laid soil, milk chocolate, cinnamon, and a particularly soft grassy-mint note. This cigar really does smell inviting, and just a whiff will elicit imagery of a beautiful day in the tobacco fields of Nicaragua.
The Herrera Esteli Norteno enters with a bold splash of flavor. Dark roasted espresso, nuts, and pepper are most pronounced, with a creamy muted chocolate entering the fold just a few puffs later. Very quickly the profile smooths itself out into a bold, but refined smoking experience. Body is thick and voluminous, but fairly dry in texture. A retrohale demonstrates how lively the Norteno is, with a sinus-invigorating spattering of warm red pepper, earth, and strong leather. The Norteno is sittin’ pretty with a nicely balanced medium-full profile that leaves a shamelessly bold array of agricultural flavors on the palate.
Into the second third of Willy Herrera’s Norteno, we see a mellowing of the profile. It’s a peppery bastard, composed of a variety of black, white, and red pepper, but ultimately the pepper remains impeccably smooth and isn’t abrasive to the palate in the slightest. A bit more sweetness has emerged, in the form of an undertone of dark chocolate, and plenty of leather through the nose. The Herrera Esteli Norteno has situated itself at an excellent crossroads between the classic maduro sweetness, and the contemporary San Andreas maduro characteristics.
The peppery aspects of the Norteno have cooled off substantially. While still present, the pepper has opted to allow the rest of the profile to breathe a bit, expanding the range of flavors that are immediately noticeable without having to really dig to pick them up. A notable increase in wood flavors is immediately apparent, and earthy soil still rounds out the base of the profile. The body is a bit less dense than earlier on, but retains largely the same dry characteristics as before. I wish I had more cigar left at this point, as the nub is beginning to burn my fingers.
Burn and Construction:
I have smoked two different sized Herrera Esteli Nortenos; a toro at an event we had at our store with Willy in December, and a 4×48 for this review. The smaller size was fairly fussy in regards to keeping its burn line even, and I don’t recall this being an issue with the toro I smoked several months ago. Either way, I won’t come down to harshly this time around, as this is a pre-release cigar.
As far as construction goes, Willy Herrera’s Norteno is top-notch, which isn’t all that surprising given who it’s coming from. My only gripe really was the draw, which I found to be incredibly loose on the 4×48. No, seriously. Absolutely zero resistance. Again, I don’t recall this being as much of an issue with the toro I smoked, but I could be wrong.
It’s probably fair to say that most people were quite curious what direction Willy Herrera would go next after the release of the Herrera Esteli, and furthermore, whether or not he’d be able to top it. Personally, I’ll throw my opinion down on the record as a definitive “yes”. The Herrera Esteli Norteno delivers on all fronts of what you would hope it to be. Rich, balanced, and filled with diverse flavors; this may just be my favorite thing Mr. Herrera has done thus far. Fans of his work at El Titan de Bronze and the Herrera Esteli will find the blending pattern familiar, but it will stand out as something distinctly unique and all its own.
One thing worth noting, I find there to be a noticeable bit more pepper accompanying the smaller ring gauge. The larger size has a bit better balance overall, and is a bit more suited to my palate. Ultimately though, I enjoyed both cigars immensely. I would gladly smoke the Herrera Esteli Norteno on a frequent basis, and will be doing just that when the Norteno officially hits the shelves in just several months.
4 out of 5