REVIEW: V-Gar

vgar3September 12th, 2016

Recently, I was contacted by a manufacturer's representative about the possibility of reviewing the first electronic cigar on the market.

Being a cigarette as well as a cigar smoker, I had tried several of the e-cigs on the market, with mixed results. While they provided me with the nicotine I enjoy, and the opportunity to 'smoke' in my home office or truck without offending the olfactory systems of the three females I share a home with (Disclosure: They are my wife and two daughters--get your minds out of the gutter!), I had yet to find one that actually tasted good to me. As such, I was initially skeptical of the concept of an E-cigar.

Tobacco has such a varied and encompassing taste that I couldn't see how the complex flavors of a cigar could be duplicated in vapor form.

At the same time, the concept still piqued my curiosity. How could they develop a flavor profile that was somewhat generically 'cigar'-like? Since flavor preferences differ so widely among smokers, boiling it down to a generic taste profile left me with two conflicting initial impressions - one that the process seemed impossible and another that had me saying to myself, "You know, I ought to at least try that."

I replied to the representative, and was almost immediately greeted by Jack Heller, the CEO of V-Gar, LLC. He offered to send samples in return for a written review. I cautioned him that we are impartial reviewers, but if he really wanted to know what dedicated cigar smokers thought of his product, he had definitely come to the right place.

Soon after, a package containing five samples and a product brochure arrived at my door. Four reviewers (plus myself) were sent the samples.

The product is unique, and didn't meet most of our blind review criteria. (Plus, being the only product of its kind on the market, the review could hardly be considered 'blind'.) There is no clip required, no pre-light aroma or flavor (no lighting at all, in fact), no construction issues or ash to evaluate, et cetera. So, I decided to ditch the traditional review criteria, and instead invited our reviewers to submit a few paragraphs commenting on the product and how they liked or disliked it.

Out of the four reviewers that I selected, only two of them submitted reviews (another uncommon outcome of our review process). I will respectfully submit their impressions of the product and then add my own remarks at the end.
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vgar2GrouchoM (Tom Smitty) wrote:

"I have no experience with e-cigars, nor e-cigarettes. I was not excited about e-cigars, e-whatever. We all see them everywhere, and users hail their merits."

"Sadly, I could not get my mind around e-cigars. Why? Because smoking a cigar requires a harsh physical reaction, where a tobacco leaf is conceptualized, a blend is settled on, the tobacco leaf is harvested, dried, then the tobacco leaf is rolled tightly, wet, glued, stored in warehouses and cold frozen before shopping to your local B'n'M shelf."

"You can often smoke it immediately off the truck or place it in your humidor to settle, age or rest for years. Upon which time, when you do smoke, you set the foot on fire and puff repeatedly, heating and cooling the foot (which can effect the taste and flavor for good or bad) - a process that, while harsh, is also passive in many ways. The result is inhaling and savoring the flavor and strength (ranging from mild to very full)."

"You then are prey to numerous physical, emotional and atmospheric factors - the sensation resulting from the feel of touching the body of the cigars, the aroma coming off the cigar, pre-lit and aroma during the smoke, the exhaling plumes of dense smoke, flavor that's either heightened or dulled by an oily cigar or a dried out one respectively, and even the bitter sweet or salty taste that can be experienced in the last third of the smoke. All of this makes for a definitively engaging experience that is FULLY interactive, harsh and passive at the same time."

"All cigar smokers look for the great, smooth, full-bodied, flavorful smoke - that one cigar we taste even after the smoke fades to ash and say, 'That was a great stick,' as we thumb the band in our pocket. It's damn near a religious experience. All the things I mentioned are what makes cigar smoking cigar smoking. And for me, that tradition should never change."

"But, upon reviewing the V-gar, there were none of the things I previously mentioned. Sadly, there was no 'there' there - no 'soul'. The stick was a beautiful machine, but devoid of that real spark, or what we humans call 'a soul'. I drew it out of its package, and was presented with the best looking stick I had ever seen. It had a perfect brown exterior resembling a couple in color."

"The packaging was the first odd thing I noticed. It was a clear, plastic, rectangular box, which opened like a Cross pen box - very neat packaging, but for a pen, not a cigar. Yes, we have cigars encased in metal tubes, cedar and tobacco leafs. But they have a purpose. And while metal tubes are cold, bulky rectangular plastic packages are even colder for cigars. So, strike one. But for the product, it actually was appropriate."

"As I emptied the cigar from its case, I immediately looked for instructions. I'd never tried an e-cigar, so I was curious (for a newbie) if there were instructions. Sadly, none on the box, none included. Big strike two!"

"Only possessing a public school education, I asked, 'What the hell do I do with this thing? How does it work? Is there a right and wrong way to smoke it?' But, I pressed on."

"The assembly was a masterful replica of a Toro cigar, but a replica none the same. It possessed a simple gold multicolored mosaic ring like a championship boxer's belt, a very small black circle that had the words 'Maduro' in a thin tan font and 'V-Gar' in cool slanted incursive white font."

"'A Maduro?' I thought? 'I'm mad about Maduros.'"

"I thought for an instant my fears were unfounded, silly and negative thinking. So, I forged ahead, and saw that there was a brown patch of paper on the tip, like a band. I peeled it away to expose a sizeable hole (about the diameter of a paperclip), and then realized I needed information. I Googled 'V-gar' and found a less than helpful website. So, I again forged ahead."

"I took a draw, inhaled a mouthful of sweet cookie dough-flavored smoke and exhaled what was the lightest smoke I had ever blown - it was like the candy cigarette dust. The taste was distinctive and sweet, too sweet. It was like smoking a Yankee Candle scented of chocolate chip cookie dough. So, there was strike three."

"While the only thing I needed was the e-cigar, I was left with this thought: 'Is that all there is?'"

"I was sorely disappointed, which turned quickly to disdain. I thought, 'No self-respecting cigar smoker is going to smoke this, EVER.'"

I tried to smoke it over three days. And each time, I cringed as my mouth filled with the taste of sweetness and I wondered, 'Where was the glass of milk?'"

"There's an old saying, which is, 'You can tell what something is by what it's not.'"

"This was not a cigar in any sense of the word. The body was firm, too firm. And I kept forcing myself to take draws, all of which were weak, with the same ridiculous result. I gave up and put it on a rung of my ladder in my shed, hoping to forget it's existence. But, alas, I had to finally write this review."

"The concept was fine, the execution horrid. The only redeeming aspect of the cigar was its look; it was spot on for a faux cigar. But, even with such a design, the V-gar missed everything."

vgar1Jester (Jeff Nichols) added:

"In the interests of full disclosure, I think it best to allow the readership to understand my baselines for this review." 

"Firstly, and probably most importantly, I am a nicotine addict. I use daily some type of delivery device to maintain my sanity and the general good health of those surrounding me. These devices include cigarettes, snuff, cigars, pipes, e-cigs, patches, gum and lozenges."

"Secondly, some of these I consume because they deliver a pleasurable experience, as they satisfy my nicotine craving (cigars, pipes, snuff--and to a lesser extent, cigarettes). Others I consume simply to keep from losing my mind in environments where I am not able use my more pleasurable (to me) methods. E-cigs and vapes are a means to sort of bridge the gap, deliver a quasi-smoking experience and deliver nicotine without the whole second-hand smoke issue being as much of a problem."

"Thirdly, when I decide to smoke a cigar, I have already carved out the time and place necessary to accomplish that. It is a planned and anticipated occurrence, not merely an easing of a craving. There are other ways to do that on the quick."

"So, with those caveats in place, I'll begin."

"Packaging/construction:
This is obviously a disposable product - not refillable or rechargeable. So when the battery dies or the fluid dries up, you are out of vapor. The packaging is attractive, and I find the heft and feel of a cigar has been considered in the construction - perhaps a bit hard and heavy, but not extreme in my mind. I have no real point of reference, as I've not used any other E-cigar. But it doesn't feel as 'off' to me as e-cigs often do."

"The 'smoke"'or vapor:
OK, I'll just come right out and say it. I've tried many different blends and products that try to imitate the taste and mouth feel that a pull on the cooler end of a burning tobacco leaf can deliver. None have thus far, and I suspect none will. The menthols might get close, but then again, you are not really tasting tobacco. That said, this flavoring is darker and more robust than an e-cig, and I can even stretch my mind enough to believe cigar rather than e-cig. To me that is an accomplishment. Predictably it is non-changing (it is a fluid, not a burning leaf), and rather thin as compared to an actual cigar. But again, it isn't an actual cigar. There is really no nuance. But it does say a sort of generic 'tobacco smoke' to my tongue. Additionally, I was able to 'smoke' sitting right next to my asthmatic spousal unit inside the house without a hint of complaint from her. That alone (to me) may make it worth the price of admission."

"Use/utility:
As I've said, I tend to carve out time to smoke a cigar in an environment where I can smoke a cigar. It is a planned evolution for me. That said, I must admit to liking the ease with which I could be inside quaffing an adult beverage and watching a movie with the spousal unit while using the e-cigar. I could see it on long car trips with nonsmokers, or even a surreptitious couple of draws in a bathroom stall (not that I would do something like that). Additionally, the longevity of the thing is pretty impressive. So long as you re-apply the cap, you can 'smoke' for a bit and then put it down for a while, then pick it back up and have a couple of draws later. Mine is still going."

"In sum, if you are expecting a premium cigar experience from this, then you will be disappointed. If you think you might like to have something around to draw on once and a while to quickly quiet a desire to smoke when you don't have the time for a full stick (or perhaps you are confined in a non-smoking environment and find yourself a little edgy), then this might be worth a try. Please don't dismiss this as the talk of an addict. We develop strong associative behavioral links. And if you associate having a cigar with calm, peace and relaxation, the ability to simulate that activity in other situations can be helpful. Just sayin'."

"Kudos to the manufacturer for having the cojones to throw this in front of actual cigar smokers for review as well!"
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As for my own experience with the product, first let me explain the environment in which I tried it. My parents, who live about 350 miles from us, met us halfway to take each of the granddaughters for a half-week stay. Each of the three trips made that week totalled roughly three hours apiece. Being as my daughters hate the smell of smoke (less so cigars than cigarettes), this seemed the perfect time to have 9 hours of time to see what the product was all about. It also insured there would be no complaints from the peanut gallery in the back seat of the truck.

The package promises 1800 puffs per stick, which is roughly equivalent to 9-10 Churchill cigars, according to the packaging and the brochure. Longevity across the 9 hours of drive time wouldn't be a factor.

The first thing that I noticed about the V-Gar is that it looked like a beautifully hand-crafted cigar. The wrapper was a pleasing Connecticut Shade color, with the soft feel and veiny texture of a real, hand-rolled cigar and an attractive band. The packaging was similar to the hard plastic packaging you would expect from a convenience store cigarillo. But thankfully, the V-Gar didn't have a wooden tip.

The second thing that I noticed was that it was heavy - really heavy... heavier than a real cigar, by a factor of about five. That made it difficult to hold in my mouth hands-free, and made it a bit awkward to hold in one hand while gripping the steering wheel. Not at all a disqualifying factor, but it was certainly noticeable. I peeled away the sticker covering the hole (not an easy task while driving 70 MPH on the highway), and was met with a tip that appeared as though it had been opened with a cigar punch. Still, not a disqualifying factor, even though I rarely use a punch cutter if there are other means of clipping at hand. Doing so made for a smoother operation without hazard.

On the first few draws, there was a hint of tobacco flavor. But it resembled the taste of ash more than it did the taste of smoke - not so strong as to be foul, but noticeable.

As I continued to puff on it over the 3 trips, it developed a sweetness that I don't normally associate with tobacco - not creamy (although it did develop some creaminess as it went along), not spicy, not peppery, no real hints of leather, wood or caramel like you would expect in a hand-rolled cigar, but sweet. The closest thing I can compare it to is a vanilla cake cone you get at an ice cream parlor - not offensive in the least, but far from what I was expecting. Very different. The longer I puffed on it, the more pronounced this flavor became. The volume of 'smoke' that I exhaled with each puff was adequate, but not generous. It didn't really remind me of any cigar I had ever smoked, nor did it remind me of the ashtray flavor of an e-cigarette.

My overall impression of the product was quite neutral. I recognize that as a frequent smoker, I have pre-conceived notions about any cigar I try that are universal regardless of brand, wrapper or country of origin. That isn't necessarily positive or negative; it is just so. Someone who is new to cigar smoking might find this to be a very pleasurable experience that may well lead them to try more conventional smokes to compare and contrast with. For an old 'leather-tonsil' like myself, I wasn't really impressed.

As a concept, I think it is a great idea, although the new FDA directives might make it harder to find a market. As it stands right now, I think this product needs further flavor development to meet what I assume is the target audience of folks who live in places with restrictive smoking laws that would prefer to 'smoke' indoors with a few adult beverages rather than brave the elements.

According to the packaging, the samples we were given were of the Maduro variety, said to have hints of chocolate, licorice and coffee. I tasted none of that.

According to the brochure, this vitola is available in a non-nicotene version of the Cubano as well as a straight Cubano, Prophet (said to be milder with hints of clove and spice with less sweetness), Volodo (said to be less sweet and more earthy in flavor) and Private Reserve (said to have a blend of deep, rich tobacco with earthy notes of cocoa, minerals and grains(?)). They also offer a variety of Cigarillo-sized vitolas said to be the equivalent of 4-5 Churchill-sized cigars, and in a variety of flavors that range from raspberry to coffee to champagne to chocolate, in nicotine and non-nicotine offerings. They also offer a line of e-cigarettes in clove, menthol, tobacco and a Virginia-blend flavoring.

While it didn't turn out to be my particular 'cup of tea', I am thankful to Mr. Heller and the folks at V-Gar for the opportunity to sample their product. For more information and some pretty nice introductory offers, you can visit their website at www.v-gar.com.