Monday, December 31, 2007

Something About a Padron

I have yet to try the expensive, highly-rated Padrons from the 1926 and 1964 series. However, the quality of their cheaper workaday cousins is impressive.

Two examples: The Padron Londres (corona) and the larger Churchill/Presidente size, both available at retail for about 4 dollars (or less in lower-taxed regions). In both cases I was surprised that despite their loose draw, these cigars smoked flavorfully and without any hotness whatsoever. In fact they burned so well that they were smokeable down to the last inch. Like any worthwhile cigar, the flavor was good from the first puff and modulated favorably throughout, getting pleasantly stronger but never bitter.

These bottom-shelf Padrons have a unique body and flavor (medium-bodied and ample in character with hints of powder, molasses, hardwood) that makes them an incredible value for the low price. Visually, they look simple yet trustworthy: Rough, cleanly-hewn wrappers and an unpretentious thin brown band. Despite their lack of flash, they smoke with a refreshing fullness. Like a cold beer at the end of a strenuous workday, they make you feel good about a job well done.

When in doubt and low on cash, smoke a cheap Padron. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Don't Believe the Hype: Nestor Reserve Maduro

Review of Nestor Reserve Maduro Torpedo:

Recently I was able to get my greedy hands on a five-pack of Nestor Reserve Maduro torpedos for only 7 bucks in an online auction. Good thing too, because they're not worth a penny more.

The creative marketers at Cigars International certainly hype up these black beauties, using enticing phrases such as "chocolate thunder" and "rated 93 by Cigar Aficionado." Well, how long ago was that? 1998? And which size was it? Funny how the distributors are always vague about that, as if every size in the whole darned line won the super rating. Could you tell us, please? Pretty please? Cause this Nestor torpedo sure as hell doesn't rate a 93 today.

My first concern was that despite their enormous size, these torpedos weigh little more than a feather. Sometimes that's a good sign, as with Padrons, but usually it just means you're in for a cheap ride.

And cheap it was: I couldn't get this thing to light straight, and it never evened out. The smoke was ample and billowy, but had a nondescript taste. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, I know chocolate. I've eaten chocolate. I'm friends with chocolate. And you, son, don't taste like chocolate.

But then again, what cigar ever does? I wish reviewers would quit using the word chocolate and come up with something more accurate like "dark, billowy, burnt-toasty flavor." That's about what it comes down to. Some people actually like burned toast. Why not let them know about it?

For a cheap cigar, the Nestor Reserve Maduro Torpedo is fine if you're doing something else and not really paying attention. If you're mowing the lawn, or fishing, or golfing, stick one of these feather-lite pylons in your mouth and puff away. But if you're hoping to sit, relax, and enjoy the pleasure of a great cigar that hardly cost you anything, don't bother. With this one, you're only getting what you pay for.

Little Nano, Finger-Burning Good

Review of Maxx by Alec Bradley, Nano (petite corona):

The Maxx by Alec Bradly "Nano" i.e. petite corona is the best-tasting small cigar I've had yet. With a deep, full, crackly flavor and hints of minty caramel, this little minnow holds its own against any bigger fish in the sea. No fancy-schmancy perfecto tapering which wastes a full inch in shorties like the RP Vingage 92 Perfecto and Oliva Series G Special G, no precious real estate burning down while you wait for flavor to kick in: Just a fat, short, juicy, straight-shanked stick that delivers volume and power from the first puff.

The kick-ass little Nano also supports my lately garnered wisdom that a cigar has to be 40-ring size or greater to provide a true connisseur-like experience. This one measures 46 ring in width, and smokes with the excellent billowy puffery that you expect from a premium cigar.

Flavor-wise, I'd rank it in the same brawny category as Rocky Patel Vintage and La Flor Dominicana Chiselito Maduro. And, like these other revered brands, the Maxx Nano is not cheap - $3.75 a pop online and likely $5 or more in a shop. But it's worth every penny. Although only 4 inches long, it provided 45 minutes of supreme quality from the first draw all the way down to a half-inch nub. I would have kept going if it weren't for a peculiar burning sensation in the tips of my fingers: Youch!

Next time I'll have bring along a roach clip or a toothpick. That's what I call a good cigar.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Serviceable Exquisito

Review of Arturo Fuente Exquisito Maduro:

The fact that I'm reviewing several cigars today does NOT mean that I smoked all of them in one day. It's been a few weeks since I hit the keyboards but in the meantime I've had a cigar now and then. So before memory fades, let me comment on the Arturo Fuente Exquisito Maduro.

Truth is, I only bought this little thing (4.5 inches by 38 ring) because I hate laying out 8 or 10 bucks for full-sized stogies at my local cigar shop in this most heavily taxed of states. Instead, I'll often bring in my own bombers from home and buy something short from the shop to smoke later. This seems more respectable than some of the other cigar lizards who actually go straight to the lounge and fire up their own homeys without as much as a glance at the store humidor. Call me a do-gooder, but I call it good citizenship to buy something.

So, this time the shorty that I happened to purchase was an Arturo Fuente Exquisito maduro. Being a Fuente, this dapper twig cost more than some of the cheaper Churchills I've smoked (damned near 4 dollars after taxes). I tucked it away and proceeded to smoke a big fat Omar Ortez, which jangled my nerves and addled my brain.

About a week later I had recovered, and found myself experiencing extreme cigar jones. It was too late to make it to the cigar lounge, so I bundled up, took a beer out to the porch and lit up the Exquisito. Since this is my first experience with the Fuente brand, I can't compare it to any other of the other more fabled lines such as Hemingway or Don Carlos. But I must say it performed mighty well for a thin cigar. Compared to the barren H Upman Demitasse, for example, it was fabulous. A rich, woody smoke that sated my desire for 30 minutes and sent me to bed a happy man, where I proceeded to have dreams of bigger, fatter smokes.

Despite the quality of this little Fuente I must say that I have yet to find a slender cigar with quite as interesting a flavor as the El Rey Del Mundo Cafe au Lait. The Fuente Exquisito burned better and produced fuller smoke, but the El Rey plays something unique and exotic on the taste buds. At nearly half the price, that's a compelling feature.

After having tried three different slender cigars (38 ring or under) my experience has been that no matter how high the quality, you simply cannot experience the mouth feel and fullness that makes a cigar truly rewarding. Even the Fuente Exquisito couldn't overcome this limitation.

Therefore I find it more rewarding to smoke short, fatter-ringed cigars which, althought tending to burn too hot at the start and the finish, nevertheless provide several minutes of full-bodied smoking in the middle. If it's not at least 40 ring, it just won't smoke like a real cigar. If you're pressed for time, short and fat is the way to go.

Not Really Juicy, But Good

Review of Drew Estate Natural Juicy Lucy:

After my staid, not quite invigorating experience with half of an Oliva Series V robusto, I pulled out a teeny cigar named the "Juicy Lucy" in the "Natural" line by Drew Estate, after first making sure with the shop clerk that it was NOT a flavored cigar such as Acids (which I've never tried and don't really hanker to).

The clerk assured me it was a straightforward, not flavored cigar, and that it was pretty durned good. So I bought the thing and smoked it.

For a small cigar (only about 3 inches long) it tasted fine. I was a bit put off at first by some sort of sweet tincture that had been applied to the tip a la the dreaded Swisher Sweets. I don't like flavored tips because they mask the true flavor of the cigar smoke, whatever it happens to be. But the flavored tip soon wore off and it became apparent that this little cigar was tasty on its own. A straight, brawny flavor on a par with Rocky Patel Vintage 92 perfectos. Not sweet, despite whatever was painted on the tip.

The flavored tip really does this cigar a disservice. If not for that, I would buy a few more for those late-night cold winter walks. Instead I'll stick to the RP perfectos, or the occasional Arturo Fuente Exquisito when I'm in the mood to splurge.

Oliva Series V: Good, but Not "Very" Good

Review of Oliva Series V robusto:

I was all excited because a friend of mine gave me an Oliva Series V, which has gotten some attention because a particular size in the series, the torpedo, recently won a 94 rating in Cigar Aficionado.

94... Wow! Hardly any non-Cuban cigar ever gets a 94 from the lucky aesthetes at Cigar Aficionado. So I scurried down to my local cigar shop, bursting with anticipation to try the robusto. If one size gets a 94, my thinking went, the other surely would rate high as well.

Not quite. The Oliva Series V robusto was GOOD, but not VERY good. It burned well, drew fine, blasted out amazing amounts of heavy smoke, and tasted... well... adequate. Heavy flavor mostly smacking of pepper. Not a lot of nuance, no notes of this or hints of that. Not creamy, not tangy, not spicy, just a big fat peppery cigar.

So, due to lack of interesting flavor characteristics, I would not give the series V robusto anything near a 94 rating. The cigar went out on me about halfway through, and I didn't fire it back up. I'd had enough, it was time to move on to something else. Life is too short for a cigar that doesn't taste interesting. Maybe the torpedo is a completely different story, but I'm not sure if I want to lay out 9 bucks to find out.

My favorite Oliva is still the Oliva Series G Cameroon robusto. Loads of flavor, hints of tart sweetness, brawn and oomph. Sometimes it pays to stick with what you already know.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Open Wide and Say "Omar"

Last week I scurried on down to my local cigar shop and settled into the lizard lounge with a huge, bandless and rather course-looking fat boy known as the Omar Ortez Original. Talk about big: This thing was 54-ring thick and at least six inches long. Which meant, I really should have been a sumo wrestler with cheeks the size of grapefruit to properly draw this baby down.

Somehow I managed to smoke this gentle bomber to the last 1.5 inches, and was surprised at its overall mildness, coupled with its brute physiological impact. Like that 4th shot of Tequila, you don't really know the mess you've gotten yourself into until it's too late. Maybe it had something to do with smoking on an empty stomach, but within 30 minutes I was a quivering mass of overelectrified jellyfish. Note to self: Eat a meal next time.

The flavor? A bit too thin for my taste, although quite creamy. In the second half the body picked up, with a warm doughy center rising to the fore. I was really starting to like it just before I put it out. But that's a lot of cigar to wade through just to find a sweet spot at the end of the line. Oops, party over, out of time. Huh?

I see no need to purchase an Omar again. It lacked the strong flavor and body I desire in a smoke, despite the nicotine kick (which is not really what I'm looking for). In fact if someone could just take the pesky nicotine out of cigars, and keep all the flavor and nuance, I'd actually prefer it. But that's just me. I'm sure others must enjoy the sweaty palms, elevated blood pressure, and jittery restlessness that I naively consider an unfortunate side effect of strong cigars, which are the only cigars I find truly tasty, sensually satisfying and freeingly fulsome, alliterative bastard that I am.

Again, the Omar was not powerful-tasting, just ass-kicking in the physiological sense. But it was obviously a quality cigar with a nuanced flavor leaning towards peppery. I could see how others might be intrigued by it.

Short Sharp Rocky

Tonight I tried a Rocky Patel Vintage 2nds Perfecto 92, a teeny little cigar that I've had my eye on ever since winning a bundle for 25 bucks at (saved 15 bucks, woo-hoo! ...oh, the twisted psychology of the online buyer.... you could have saved 25 bucks by NOT BUYING ANYTHING AT ALL, idiot!).

Anyway, a midget Rocky Patel! Perhaps this would be the end of my holy grail-like search for the perfect winter cigar.

No. Not if this first one was any indication. It burned hot and dry at first, making me curse Rocky for foisting his funky-shaped leftovers upon me, poor unsuspecting consumer blinded by Rocky-faith. Then it got flavorful in the middle, leading me to forgive Rocky for his perfecto-tipped transgression (how can a pinpoint sized, reverse pyramid foot possibly taste like anything but a hot flame until it burns down to its thicker midsection? And why roll a cigar in this pointless, complicated and expensive manner?) Yes, once I hit the midsection, this cigar tasted wonderful, for the space of about ten minutes. Then it burned extremely hot again, and I had to put it out, a forlorn and much too long-looking stub.

Despite the delectable ten minutes in the middle, I'm not sure I really liked this RP toddler. I'll try a few more, then make up my mind. At least it's strong and memorable, like you would expect from a Rocky. However not much better overall than the Oliva Series G Special G, which is equally ridiculously shaped, and hot and dry except for 10 minutes in the center. On the other hand, this RP was a 2nd, so you have to cut it some slack. And I have no intention of paying full price for the regular Vintage 92 midget perfectos, because $4.50 for a 20 -minute cigar just doesn't seem right.

Boo-hoo. Looks like I'll have to spring for an Oliva Series V torpedo, and sit for an hour in a cigar lounge with all the other lizards. Then I'll only have Cigar Aficionado to blame if I'm disappointed. 94 rating? I'll be the judge of that.

Meanwhile I'll smoke down my remaining RP Vintage 2nds Perfectos while walking the dog.