Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cigars Shouldn't Taste Like Plastic: Onyx Reserve Mini-Belicoso

The Onyx Reserve apparently won a 94 rating a couple years back. Well, I wonder which size, because the Mini Belicoso is an underperformer.

Honestly, this cigar tasted like burning plastic for the first 15 minutes or so. Then it opened up and started tasting like burnt rubber, then burnt toast. By the last ten minutes it was tasting like a good maduro cigar.

This has got to be the strangest-tasting cigar I have ever smoked. I'm afraid to try another one.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Flaky pastry, cheese and crackers: Padilla 1968 Robusto

For the past two years I've been striving to describe the experience of smoking a cigar in the most visceral, subjective manner possible. But I've always failed, falling back on the staid solipsisms of professional cigar reviews a la Cigar Aficionado and a dozen web sites that pop up in Google.

Well, no more. I'm taking that Tom Wolfe leap and writing whatever the f^&*k comes into my head. Call it the new cigar journalism. Here goes:

After smoking the Padilla 1968 robusto on a crisp and breezy autumn afternoon, my overall impression of it was: Flaky pastry, cheese and crackers.

Read into that what you will. It's a Keruoac moment. It's a dada, ooh-ah signpost of wonder.

To put it in plain English: The Padilla 1968 robusto is a wonderful medium-bodied cigar. Flaky pastry, cheese and crackers. Warm nutty finger bowl of mouthy delight. Puff pastry in a powder keg, rocket to heaven on a slingshot budget, per cigarbid low 13-dollar crazy 5-pack win.

Similar to Rocky Patel Renaissance but better from the get-go.

Not the best cigar you will ever smoke, but worth it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

5-Vegas Classic Revisited: What Was I Thinking?

Several months ago I wrote a positively ecstatic review about the supposedly sublime quality of the lowly 5-Vegas Classic (torpedo size).

I must have been out of my f@#$ing mind. A retraction is in order.

I have smoked several of these in the months since, and can only say that I was sadly mistaken. The 5-Vegas Classic torpedo is an underflavored, boring cigar not unlike dozens of other dull, medium-bodied, brown-shaded Sumatra-wrapped bombers. Not that there's anything wrong with Sumatra: When Sumatra is good, it's great. But when it's bad, it's yucky pucker-your-lips, lemon grass bad.

I keep castigating myself for being duped by that first 5-Vegas torpedo. How could it have fooled me? How could it have tasted so good? I remember that day clearly: I was not inebriated or emotionally agitated. I was perfectly relaxed in mind and body. Yet still I was duped.

Even the way I described its appearance was off-base: I perceived it as being dark in color, and gorgeously toothy in texture. It's not: It's a light-brown, smooth-textured cigar, with nothing especially appealing about its appearance or odor. I should know, because I've still got five of these sludge poles taking up space in my humidor. After that first one, given to me by a friend, I went out and bid up 10 more on cigarbid. Lucky me! At least I won them for only 14 bucks total. I may be a fool, but I'm a cheap one.

My only explanation is that the first 5-Vegas torpedo I smoked must have been the last of an earlier blend. Maybe it really did have a darker wrapper. Maybe it really was a supremely superior blend to the one that's out there now. Maybe I had smoked the last of a dying breed.

Or maybe that first one wasn't even a 5-Vegas classic. Yeah, that's it! Maybe it was some other cigar altogether. Maybe it was mislabeled, an imposter. Maybe the guy who gave it to me had accidentally switched it with another, better cigar, and slipped the 5-Vegas band back on in a drug-induced trance.

And maybe my father is the King of Siam.

I stand in shame. Here's the embarrassing review again, if you want to read it for a laugh.

Vegas de Fonseca Sobrinos: Buy this now!

For those of you in the dark, Vegas de Fonseca Sobrinos (i.e. robustos) are on auction nearly every week at, routinely topping out at a mere 7 bucks per five-pack. With an early bid, I was actually able to win recently at a piddling 5 dollars, making this absolutely the best $1.00 cigar I could ever hope to smoke.

These prices are indeed highway robbery, because Vegas de Fonseca Sobrinos are extremely high quality, medium bodied, incredibly rich, full-flavored cigars. They exhibit a pure, smooth and nearly imperceptibly sweet quality that makes me happily think of something white, like coconut. Only they don't taste like coconuts, because that would be ridiculous.

However you might quarrel about the exact flavor equivalent (roasted pecans? Tortellini in cream sauce?) They smoke as well as much more expensive blends such as Gurkha Regent or Joya de Nicagagua. They are worth a try and certainly worth a lousy five bucks. Hell, if you don't like 'em, I'll buy 'em off of ya.

Cigar Aficionado was absolutely right to rank this cigar among the top 25 of 2005. They are still that good, and seem to have been forgotten in the ongoing onslaught of new-blend hype that escalates from year to year. Take my word, you should be buying as many of these as possible, before the supply runs out or the blend changes.

I'm only giving this gem-in-a-closet secret away because I've got several of these babies in my humidor already. As the holiday season approaches, all I can think of are ways to help my fellow cigarheads. Aren't you all lucky.

Pirate's Gold: No Joke, You Can Actually Smoke This Cigar

If the "aye matey, har-dee-har, walk the plank" band on this cigar puts you off (pirate with a black eye patch), don't let it: The Pirate's Gold by Rolando Reyes (maduro robusto) is actually a quite tasty and serviceable cigar.

The maduro robusto is pleasantly mild but tasty, with subtle wood, nutmeg and honeyish flavors that you might recognize from other more expensive Puros Indios blends. This is a great cheapo cigar for when you're doing odd jobs out in the yard, painting the deck, excavating a new basement, fire-bombing anthills, or whatever the hell else makes you feel like a man.

In fact, the Pirate might actually be good enough to smoke in complete repose with a drink in hand and your feet stretched out at poolside. I haven't done that yet but someday I might just try it.

You won't find a better cigar for $1.20. The way the economy's going, we might all be smoking Pirate's Gold this time next year. If we're lucky.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

RP 92 Perfecto: Consistently good butt-kicker of a smoke

I've lately gained a renewed appreciation for the Rocky Patel Vintage 92 perfecto, probably the best-tasting short perfecto I've ever encountered.

In previous reviews I've chastized this little tyke for burning slightly hot and not satisfying like a big Rocky 92 robusto or torpedo. Well, I was naive. I've tried small perfectos from here to kingdom come. I've tried Oliva Series G special G. I've tried Fuente Hemingway short story. I've tried every 4-inch cigar I can get my hands on. None of them can touch an RP Vintage 92 perfecto.

The trick is to smoke these things slowly, with plenty of time between puffs. You will be rewarded with a rich, hearty, spicy smoke with nearly the fullness of a 50-ring cigar.

One more thing: I've only smoked SECONDS in the RP Vintage perfecto line. Factory rejects. Unwanted black sheep. Runts of the litter. And I've always won them at auction for under 2 bucks per stick. They still kick ass. They still put the Fuentes to shame.

Folks, place your bids early at $7 per five-pack or $25 per mazo of 15. Eventually, you will win. And you will never find a better $1.80 cigar.

Rocky Patel Renaissance robusto

The RP Renaissance, a relatively new addition to the Rocky family, is a fine-looking Sumatra wrapped cigar. Appealing light brown in color, well-rolled, and smelling like a trip to paradise. But with Sumatras, you never know which direction the flavor is going to go.

At first, I was disappointed. This thing tasted no better than the last 5-Vegas classic torpedo I smoked a few weeks ago. A nondescript puckery smoke.

After two inches, however, the character veered into slightly nuttier, earthier territory. Whisps of flavor here and there which got increasingly more pronounced as the cigar approached its nub.

Still, this is a medium-bodied cigar. It never gets strong, peppery or spicy. It never develops an exotic, blast-you-into-outer-space sweet spot. If you understand this going in, you won't be disappointed.

My only problem is that the first 2 inches were lackluster. You don't expect this from a Rocky, and it's somewhat of a gut-punch when you realize what's happening.

Similar to:
Padilla 1968 robusto (a better cigar)
5-Vegas Classic torpedo (worse)

Blue Label Torpedo by Gran Habano

Not much to say about the Blue Label torpedo. I won a five-pack of these for 7 bucks on cigarbid. Now I know the reason why: It's a mediocre smoke.

It's a huge, elegant-looking torpedo, brown and rich-looking, impressive if you're into length and visual appeal. It lights easily, draws well, and produces a hefty volume of smoke. For some dudes, that would be enough.

Not for me. The flavor is a dull mixture faintly suggestive of cardboard, lemon peels, and old socks.

This is great cigar if you are drunk, playing golf, or otherwise not paying attention to your tastebuds. If you're sitting in a lounge chair, sipping a highball, and hoping for glorious epicurean relaxation, you're gonna be mighty disappointed.

Go get 'em, bargain hunters.

Remotely similar to:
5-Vegas (classic) torpedo.
Nestor Reserve Maduro torpedo
Montecristo Media Noche Edmundo

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reyes Family Subpar

If you're as skinflinty and suggestible as I am, you probably go out to cigarbid and watch what other people are bidding, thinking if they're bidding high, the cigar must be good. Well, it ain't always so. Case in point: Fuentes routinely going at 20 to 40 percent above list price. Huh? Folks, the Hemingways aren't THAT good.

Second case in point: The Rolando Reyes Family Premier.

I've had my eye on the Premier ever since seeing it advertised a few months ago. Early on in my cigar smoking days I'd had a brief infatuation with all things Puros Indios, enjoying their unique flavor characteristics, but ultimately was undone by their unreliability in construction and burn. Maybe this new cigar would set things right.

The fact that the Reyes chose to call it "Premier" set me to salivating. Obviously the family held this cigar in high esteem, and was offering it up as their crowning gem. On my many forays to, I noticed people winning 5-packs at 21 dollars one week, then 11 or 13 bucks the next. There seemed to be no clear public mandate on this cigar.

The next time the Toro size got listed, I put in the very first bid at a piddling 9 bucks and actually ended up winning (folks, if you want to win cheap, you absolutely must be the first bidder).

Anyway I'm glad I didn't bid 21 bucks like the poor bastard who won it the week before, because the Reyes Family Premier Toro is only a middling cigar. Of moderate strength, it sports a straightforward woody-peppery flavor and a commendable draw and burn - but for only two inches. At midpoint the burn muffles out (tunneling perhaps) and the flavor turns tarry. You might as well be smoking a sponge.

This cigar would have been OK for the price if it could only perform for the duration. It's too bad the Reyes didn't succeed with this one. I keep rooting for them, but they need to institute some quality standards in their rolling and more creativity in their blending.

Somewhat similar to:
Hoyo Seconds robusto maduro
Padilla Obsidian Belicoso

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coy Toy: Padilla Habano Toro

I really get a kick sometimes out of going on the web to see what the distributors have to say about any given cigar I just smoked. For example, the Padilla Habano Toro.

Everything Cigars International has to say about the this particular cigar is wrong.

"A complex core of rich, toasty flavors..." Wrong. It has pleasant but rather one-dimensional, medium-bodied dusty or oaky flavor.

"... boasting eventful nuances of coffee and bittersweet cocoa": Blather. It is a straightforward tobacco experience, somewhat on the chalky side, which I personally don't mind.

"...topped off by a subtle touch of pepper on the finish.": Hardly. This is not a peppery cigar. If anything, it is slightly woody.

And finally: "The smoke is slow-burning and medium in body." Absolutely not. This is a fast-burning cigar that threatens to go out unless you puff on it every 30 seconds.

Actually, one part of the C.I. blurb is right: "medium in body." I gotta hand it to those creative marketing fellas at Cigars International. They sure know how to come up with a hundred different ways to describe three or four basic types of cigars.

To make this long-winded review short: The Padilla Habano Toro is a decent cigar that burns OK, tastes decent but not extraordinary, and probably costs a bit too much. It has a few moments of excitement in the middle, but never quite provides the ecstatic burst of flavor that it hints at. It toys with you, but doesn't quite deliver.

Remotely similar to:
El Rey del Mundo
Indian Tabac Candela toro
Oliva Series V robusto
Quintero Churchill

Dull, Dull, Dull: Partagas Spanish Rosado Rohito

In my quest to find the perfect short cigar, I stumble across some real dogs sometimes. The Partagas Spanish Rosado Rohito (4.5 by 50) is one such canine: A tightly wrapped, poor burning, weak-bodied, dull flavored dud of a sludge pole.

The short "Rohito" vitola is difficult to find online (if you're truly interested in buying one, try Bonita Smoke Shop) but my local cigar store happened to have a few.

The cigar looks invitingly brown, rough and beautiful. But the draw is so tight, and the consistency of the smoke so threadbare, that I barely stuck it through to midpoint. If I crunched down on it and closed my eyes, I could almost believe I was smoking a cigar. The best flavor characteristic I could discern in this strenuous manner was a hint of charcoal topped by a frisson of burnt onions. Not my idea of a connoisseur's delight.

I'd be curious to know if I'm the only one who dislikes this cigar. Maybe the other Partagas Spanish Rosado sizes are as good as the online reviewers say. I'm reluctant to take another chance.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Eventful and Tasty: Gurkha Masters Select Robusto #4

Although called a "robusto" the Gurkha Master's Select #4 is actually more akin in size to a toro, being 6 inches long. The distributors claim that it has a 52 ring size, however I find it a bit narrower - perhaps 48 or 49.

Which is OK because this cigar smokes wonderfully. It lights quickly, draws easily and has an immediate spicy, eventful flavor that accompanies the cigar all the way to the nub. While not as "smooth and silky" as the Class Regent Torpedo, the Master's Select is tastier. It features a Dominican-grown Habana 2000 wrapper which, although light in color, provides a medium-bodied, rich flavor with hints of maple sugar and nutmeg.

I smoked this one while waiting for alligators to crawl out of a swamp in Florida. No alligators materialized, but I had one hell of a smoke.

The Master's Select #4 routinely goes on sale at Cigars International, 15 for 40 bucks. That is a great cigar at that price. If you're not willing to wait for the next sale, you can usually match that price by putting in an early bid on 5-packs at cigarbid. The Master's Select is up almost every week. I was recently able to win a 5-pack for only 11 bucks.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Complete Bust: Padilla Obsidian belicoso

A friend of mine swears by these black beauties, but also admits that every second or third cigar is rolled too tightly. This fellow has some kind of custom-formed wire doo-hickey to hollow out such cigars and make them smokable, but I'm in no such position.

My first Padilla Obsidian was rolled as tight as a rock. My tongue practically came loose from my throat trying to draw on this thing. I cut the cigar back and re-lit it twice, with no improvement, then gave up and threw the damned thing away.

My second Padilla Obsidian weighed little more than a feather, squeezed like a pillow and lit up like a charm. It drew cooly and excellently and tasted like... blah. Nothing. A chalky subdued charcoal flavor which was not unpleasant but quickly became boring. I put this one out at the mid-point.

I have one Padilla Obsidian left in my humidor. I'm guessing it's going to stay in there a long, long time because these little bastards have done nothing but disappoint me. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on George W. Bush. Fool me three times? Uh...

I'll let you know how that one turns out. Someday.

Graycliff Espresso and Double Espresso

A few months ago I stepped out of my cheapo comfort zone and spent a whopping $30 for a daily special on Graycliff Espresso PGs (robustos, 5-pack) at the Famous website. I must say that this is the highest price I've ever paid online for five cigars. I was feeling like quite the swashbuckler. But I figured it was the only way I'd ever get to try a Graycliff, because I sure as hell wasn't going to pay their standard prices of 12-18 bucks per stick.

Coincidentally a few days later, an office buddy presented me with a Graycliff "Double Espresso," whose name conveys a magnification not in size (the "double" actually being a short, stubby 4.5 inch robusto), but rather in flavor. He was happy to inform me that he had "only" paid 42 bucks (plus shipping) for his 5-pack in an online auction. Veritable highway robbery.

Finally, my chance to be a high roller, at half the blindingly astronomical retail prices.

I must say you do get a certain amount of quality and consistency for your Graycliff investment. These are solidly good cigars you can depend on. Both cigars are excellent burning and high-performing, delivering voluminous, potent and tasty smoke until about the last inch. You can't quite nub them, but you can come darned close. They have a salty, coffee-ish, slightly exotic flavor that puts you in mind of rum and spices, pirates on the high seas, marimba music, driftwood campfires and all that Caribbean type of gobbledigook.

Interestingly, the double espresso turned out to be tad bit milder than its single-barreled namesake. If you want more power, choose the "single" espresso not the double.

Yes, both these Graycliff sticker-shockers are excellent cigars. At 6 dollars, they are practically a steal. However I'd be reluctant to pay the usual box prices which come out to something like 12 or 15 bucks per stick. The extra quality for all those extra dollars? It's hardly measurable and in no way commensurate.

My recommendation is that if you ever see these on special, buy them. Otherwise stick with other strong but more affordable brands of your choice.

Somewhat similar to:
Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic 1979
Omar Ortez Originals
Oliva Series G Cameroon robusto
5 Vegas Series A (not highly recommended)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Oliva Series G Cameroon Torpedo

Let me start by saying that I am a big Oliva Series G cameroon fan. I discovered this brand last year when reviewing the Cigar Aficionado "Best of 2006" list, and found the short robusto featured as one of the cheapest cigars on the list. I immediately bought several and found them to be powerful, sweet and delicious. The robustos are invariably good and live up to their reputation.

Now for the torpedos.

With high expectations going in, of course, I could probably have expected some degree of disappointment. This is indeed the case. The torpedo lights, burns and smokes well, but is somewhat muted in flavor and power compared to the robusto. However, if a medium bodied experience is your preference over a fuller-bodied one, the torpedo is for you.

The Series G torpedo holds it's character well and is smokeable to the nub. That being said, I still prefer the robustos, which are higher powered and more exhilarating.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trinidad Toro (Dominican)

According to the online distributors, this cigar features an "Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around a zesty broadleaf binder and a vivid blend of Nicaraguan, Dominican and Peruvian long fillers" and is supposed to be a hearty yet smooth cigar.

The toro size won a "92" rating in a 2007 issue of Cigar Aficionado, then disappeared completely from the magazine's year-end "25 best" rankings list, while several other cigars with lower ratings managed to get listed. For some reason the lucky aesthetes at the magazine dropped it from the trophy list after smoking it again. This intrigued me so I bought a few. Not cheap: I managed to snatch a five-pack at auction for 19 bucks.

The Trinidad Toro is somewhat milder than the blurbs would imply, but it is subtly enjoyable, moving from mellow tea-like flavor to bolder wood and spiciness as the cigar burns down. It is not a powerhouse, but an excellent mid-potency cigar for the morning or early afternoon. It burns well and has balance and character. I was able leave it untended for several minutes at a time while performing leaf-raking and garage-cleaning between puffs.

That being said, these classy cigars deserve to be enjoyed in a state of complete repose. When you give them proper attention, they reward you with fine flavor and gently escalating fullness.

Funny - they cost $144 a box at Cigars International, but only $109 at Famous.

Most similar to:
Hoyo Excaliber Epicure Maduro
Rocky Patel Sun Grown
Rocky Patel Cuban Blend
Omar Ortez Originals

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tolerable shorty: RP Vintage 90 petit corona

It is hard to find a decent-smoking petite corona. My hopes were high after having won a 5-pack of Rocky Patel Vintage 90 petite coronas (2nds, of course) at cigarbid a couple weeks ago. Rocky doesn't tend to screw things up.

This cigar started out a bit harsh and flat, but gradually progressed to a full-bodied midsection after about 20 minutes. It never delivered the "aha" complexity that the RP name tends to promise, but was a bracing and fairly pleasurable ride. In a beat-up old Chevy, that is, not a BMW.

I got almost an hour out of it, which is unusual for a 4.5 inch cigar. It was packed pretty full and I was able to take some long breaks between puffs to putter around with odd-jobs. Never had to re-light, however, and the long breaks kept the burn temperature down and enabled me to enjoy the subtle spices that underlie the '90 blend.

The typical problem with narrow cigars of almost any brand is their tendency to burn hot and lack finesse in flavor. This one performs better than most, but it's not the pot at the end of the rainbow. As far as 2nds go, it straddles that fine line between being a bargain on price but maybe not worth the hour of time you put into it. For someone who smokes as intermittently as I do, a great bargain is not always a great smoke.

Oh, well. Waddya expect from a cheap 2nd?

40-Minute Pepin: Cuban Classic 1979

The Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic 1979 (robusto) is an oddly fast-burning but fine tasting specimen. Upon lighting, I noticed that nearly a half-inch had already burned away. My fear was that this was going to be a hot, bitter cigar.

That fear was unwarranted. Much like mid-priced Padrons, this cigar draws loose and fast but remains acceptably cool. The flavor is peppery and spicy, but not pointedly so. On the whole, a medium bodied, flavor-rich experience.

I was done with this feather-weight stick in 40 minutes. The final inch was too hot to smoke, but every puff to that point had been satisfying. A brief, shining moment, not unlike the Kennedy presidency. Rather on the expensive side, I must say, but the construction and flavor justify it. Think of this cigar as a self-indulgent treat, and you won't be disappointed in how you've spent your hard-earned cash.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Strange Case of Bahia

In a recent flight of whimsy I laid out 12 bucks for a one-day special on a 5-pack assortment of Bahias ("Borhani's Bevy of Bahias") from Famous. What the hell, I thought. You never know. Free shipping. Aw, shucks, why not.

The cigars came in looking good and smelling repugnantly barn-yardish enough for me to expect that they'd perform inversely well. And indeed they are well-constructed, easy to light, and burn without reproach.

The flavor is another thing. While pleasantly full-bodied and generous in smoke production, these cigars have an odd undertone of flint, horseradish, or musty basement. Take your pick, I can't quite put my finger on it. This undertone is more a hint than anything, and might be construed as "leafish" or "molasses tinged" by another palate. Unfortunately for me the taste lies closer to mushroomy and briny.

Again, this subtle flavor characteristic is not enough to destroy the generally pleasant experience of smoking these cigars. Maybe Famous has in fact been keeping them in a musty basement, and I'm just tasting the aftereffects. On the bright side, an unusual flavor like this is something that might just grow on you and become your all-time favorite a year from now.

This review applies to Bahia White Label robusto, Bahia Maduro robusto, and Bahia Trinidad only. All three cigars are nearly identical in flavor.

Somewhat similar to:
Cuba Aliados Corojo toro (horrible cigar)
Indian Tabac Cameroon Legend Grand Robusto (good cigar)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Foul Hideous Creature: Aristoff Box-Pressed Maduro (Piramide)

This note is basically a reminder to myself to stay away from these admittedly nice-looking and otherwise well-constructed sludge poles.

They simply taste hideous. Dead-cat, old-socks hideous. Foul, rotten, run-from-your-brother's-breath hideous.

What else can I say? Some cigars just rub me the wrong way. I put this one out after 15 minutes, lit up my last remaining CAO Italia Novella, and had a great little 40-minute party.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chocolate and Nuts on Toast - Wow!

Finally, a cigar that evidences the fabled "chocolate" flavor that I've read so much about but never encountered until this point.

The Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro robusto is one of the finest cigars I've had in its moderate price range. This stick is full, crispy and toasty from the light-up, and holds its characteristics with little moderation all the way to the last inch. The draw is just right and the burn even and slow enough that you can smoke leisurely without fear of it going out in three minutes.

The flavors are unique and thus commendable: Hints of nuts, toast, and semi-sweet chocolate. Yes, chocolate. I'm a believer. Not the sickly, syrupy stuff of campfire smores; but rather a subdued, aromatic whiff of the type you'd get from a fondue burner. Almost as if you are smelling and tasting it at the same time.

Though not heavy and meaty, this cigar is full and consistently complex. Like other Perdomos, you can't smoke it to the nub, but by then you've gotten more than your money's worth. Highly recommended.

Overall experience most similar to:
Excaliber Epicure Maduro robusto
Rocky Patel Sun Grown robusto
Padron Londres and Ambassador

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Limited Performance: Camacho Corojo Diploma

Touted as a strong smoke, the Camacho Corojo Diploma (natural) is anything but, and is alarmingly one-dimensional. I was so disappointed in the unbelievable blandness of this cigar that I almost gave up after two inches.

However, I stuck with it, because even a bland Camacho is twice as good as a your average cigar. Eventually, the third inch began to produce some warmer, peppery flavor. The last inch peaked with some moderately potent steak-like fullness, just enough to make me wish that the entire cigar had smoked this way.

This might be a case of "one bad cigar" from the bunch, but I'll probably not buy another. They are somewhat expensive (box for $150 or so) and I was lucky enough to receive this one from a friend.

On the whole, a disappointing Camacho. If you like the Fuente/Upmann type of naturals or have tried and liked the similarly mild Camacho 1962 series, you might enjoy the Diploma. However, the 1962 is a much cheaper smoke and for my money a better cigar. To be honest, you'd be best off buying a box of Jericho robustos, which are equal in strength, smoother in flavor, good from beginning to end and--guess what--one-fifth the price of the Corojo Limited.

Stay away from all the above if you are hoping for the meaty fullness that I've come to treasure in my favorite Camachos such as SLR, Maduro, Coyolar, and even the Candelas. Great strong smokes that are worth every penny.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Best Cheap Cigar in the World - For One Inch

If you've ever been curious about the cheapo line of "JR Alternatives" that JR Cigars boasts are just as good as expensive brand-name equivalents, you can rest assured: It's not true.

At least, not in the case of the JR "Alternative to Rocky Patel Edge Maduro" (toro size). This large, lightweight, visually appealing cigar lit up perfectly and gave me a heady rush with its easy draw and immediate Rocky-ish flavor. Wow! How exciting to think I'd found a 2-dollar cigar that was just as good as a Rocky! Amazing! Impossible! I puffed away like a maniac, in heaven as I stoked up my grill and threw on a few pounds of fresh meat.

My enthusiasm, however, was premature. Within 10 minutes, this cigar had turned into the inevitable dud that it had to be - tunneling itself info a muffled wimper of a burn, requiring re-light after re-light, and diminishing in flavor as it rapidly burned away, finally turning to bitter coal sludge by the last 2 inches.

One thing you can say about this cigar is, it performs like no other: One of the best first inches you'll ever smoke, and probably the lousiest second, third and fourth.

If you have a predilection for 10-minute smokes, and don't mind throwing away three-quarters of each cigar, buy yourself a box of these bottom-feeders. Otherwise, stick to the real thing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Note on Cubans

Update November 2010: My acquaintance Hank reported that in addition to the island sticks reported below, he recently smoked 3 Cuban Romeo and Julietta coronas, donated to him by a friend in Canada. Again, Hank was underwhelmed. Apparently the Cubans don't know how to roll a decent corona (packed too tight, hard to draw) and they don't much go for strength (appeared to be habano wrapped, but tasted like papery Connecticut shade). If Hank is to be trusted, stay away from narrow-ringed Cubans...


If I were ever to smoke a Cuban cigar- and I wouldn't, because it's illegal in this great country where I reside - I certainly wouldn't write a review about it and risk exposing myself as an unpatriotic, embargo-busting commie pinko rat, which I certainly am not because I enjoy having money and possessions as much as the next guy.

But I recently was talking to a guy named Hank - I don't even know his last name, much less where he lives or what he does for a living - who was telling me that he had the opportunity to sample 3 Cuban cigars while on a trip outside the good ole USA. Here's what Hank, on the condition of total anonymity, told me about his Cuban cigar experience.

First of all, Hank made it a point of saying how excited he had been about the opportunity to try Cuban cigars, having been driven practically into an inferiority complex by his geographic restriction to smoking only lowly Dominican, Nicaraguan, Honduran and, God forbid, Miami cigars rolled by some clown named Pepin.

Hanks' first shot at Cuban cigars was the much-ballyhooed Cohiba Sublime, a rough-looking, light-brown toro that smelled of subtle barnyard - the telltale sign of a good cigar, Hank had once read. Upon lighting, Hank found the Cuban Cohiba to be rather mild but uniquely honeyish and hayish in flavor, unlike the boring papery profile of Dominican Cohiba naturals. The Sublime had a nice, easy draw, much like a Padron, and was pleasant if not particularly mind-blowing. It had, felt Hank, just a touch of exoticism, a subtle sweetness which he had never encountered in any continental cigar. However, the experience was not enough to make him rend his clothing and bemoan the fact that he hadn't been smoking Cubans his whole life.

Hank took advantage of yet two more occasions during his international travels to smoke Cuban cigars, this time smaller corona sizes that nonetheless cost him a small fortune. Legality, in foreign lands, apparently doesn't confer affordability any more than buying Cubans on the black market might. Hank was rather disappointed to find that the Cuban Romeo #2 and the Cuban Fonseca corona, both dark-shaded cigars, were tightly wrapped, and not particularly awesome in flavor. They might have been Nicaraguans, for all he could tell. In short, he felt he was missing absolutely nothing by being denied Cuban brands back in his red, white and blue homeland.

Unfortunately, 3 cigars was the extent of Hank's Cuban experimentation. Hank is happy to report that, based on this admittedly limited sampling, he no longer has an inferiority complex about smoking Central American cigars. In fact, he feels pride. From Rocky Patel to La Flor Dominicana and all points in between, we American infidels are doing just fine, he assures me. In fact Hank would venture to say that we may be even be kicking Cuban ass when it comes to smoking fine cigars at reasonable prices.

Unfortunately, I can only take Hank's word for this. Someday I can only hope I'll have the chance to try a few Cubans on my own -- after the embargo is lifted and our two countries have mended their troubled past.

"A" for Average

A quick note on the 5 Vegas Series "A" Apex (i.e. toro), a huge square-pressed maduro that is not quite as earth-shattering as you might expect by looking at it. In fact it is a rather straightforward, dusty black-powdery stogie, identical to its shorter sibling, the "artesan" robusto, in flavor and performance. Not worth spending full price, but not bad if you get one on sale.

If you happen to like Montecristo Media Noche, you may find the 5-Vegas Series A line to be similar in strength and flavor attributes, but better-tasting at half the price. On the other hand, it doesn't take much to beat the flavor of a Dominican Montecristo.

Postscript: The 5 Vegas blend that is truly a full-throttled pleasure is the 5 Vegas Miami - my best experience has been with the torpedo size. The old 5 Vegas "Classic" line was almost as good, but alas, the blend changed and now it's a stinker.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Triple Maduro: A Too-Macho Camacho?

There's really only one word to describe the Camacho Triple Maduro (robusto): Strong.

Strong, flinty, nearly corrosive in power and in no way subtle, in fact bordering on the hayish and metallic at some points. But a satisfying bomb-blast of a smoke, if that's what you're in the mood for. Not quite what I was expecting given the high price, and falling just short of the complex quality I've come to expect from Camacho.

This cigar's flavor is so ragged and raw that I suspect a few months of humidor aging would improve it vastly. As it is now, the Triple Maduro lacks the Grade-A meaty richness that most Camachos develop and hold after the first inch.

If you want a strong, somewhat shrill blast from a cigar that's a little green around the edges, you will love the Triple Maduro. Otherwise buy it and hold, the Warren Buffet way. After a year of rest, this stock will likely perform much better, and might actually earn itself the 10-plus dollars you paid for it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Boxer Rebellion

Rocky Patel continues to impress me with his lesser-known, underacknowledged cheapo brands routinely coming out of the jungle to kick the asses of better-equipped and better-marketed regimes.

The Indian Tabac Maduro (boxer size, i.e. short robusto) is yet another example. It is an excellent cheap maduro (and I mean CHEAP - $45 for a box of 25) with a full, cool, straightforward bossy flavor, plenty of dark, dusky smoke, and a nice crackling burn and draw. Frankly I enjoyed this little fireplug more than Camacho's latest trophy, the Triple Maduro. That's saying quite a lot, since the Camacho costs six times as much.

Folks, I guess I'm just a hick from the other side of the tracks, with working class tastes to boot. Every time I smoke an expensive cigar, I get bored. Then I get all excited about the cheapies.

Go figure.

And go buy yourself a box of Indian Tabac Maduros. Or a five-pack, if you're an underfunded schlub like me. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Vega Talanga: Cheap for a Reason

About a year ago I received a Vega Talanga Rojo churchill, only to be told by the guy who bestowed it that he was sending the whole shipment back because the two he tried had unraveled upon lighting.

I decided to hold on to mine and see if it could be salvaged by a year of humidor rest. A year later, here's the report.

The Vega Talango Rojo is probably the mildest corojo I have ever smoked. It had the bland, undistinguished flavor and body of a dozen other General Cigar Co. light-shade cigars. Like most Churchills, it took two inches to finally get some flavor and body. Even then, it remained on the mild side.

The third and fourth inches were decent, producing a warm dainty smoke that was papery and grassy with a hint of pepper. Reaching the last third, the stick did indeed begin to unravel at the head, and the smoke turned hot and bitter.

Well, for a buck fifty, what did you expect? If you like General Cigar Connecticut-shade products (i.e. papery, innocuous cigars that don't develop) you might actually find this a worthwhile morning smoke. At 30 bucks a box, it's a better deal and not much worse than smoking a Montecristo White, a Macanudo Hyde Park, a Hoyo Excaliber natural, a CAO Gold or even a non-cuban Cohiba Cameroon/Connecticut.

Go for it, all you two-fisted light-shade puffers.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Worthwhile Hoyo

Hoyo de Monterrey (Honduras, not Cuba) is one of the many General Cigar company labels that produce horrible, tasteless light-shade cigars, but the occasional excellent maduro. The Excalibur maduro is a case in point.

The Hoyo Excaliber Epicure (i.e. robusto) maduro was ranked by Cigar Aficionado as the 7th best of 2007 with a 92 overall rating. While I wouldn't have gone quite so far, it is indeed a satisfying cigar, smooth and nuanced with medium body and complexity. I prefer deeper, stronger smokes and so would not have given it a best-of-the-best rating.

However, its construction, draw and burn are impeccable, and it's got some interesting if somewhat gentle flavor characteristics of wood, leather and something I can only describe as dark salty broth (which may sound disgusting but isn't - go ahead and laugh; I've seen plenty more ridiculous flavor characterizations in the cigar magazines).

In summary: Not the elusive, buy-ten-boxes-immediately flavor gem I was hoping for after reading the Aficionado encomium. But a decent early-day smoke that you won't regret spending full price for at retail ($7.50 in my case). If you shop online it is truly an affordable splurge for the office drone, coming in at $64 per box at Cigars International.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jericho: Not Your Typical Camacho

The Jericho robusto is not heavy and meaty like your typical Camacho. Still, for the bargain basement prices these things were selling for (I believe the whole line has been discontinued) they were a steal. Definitely a winner in the "Best Cheap Cigars" category.

The robusto size is medium-bodied with a soft leathery flavor supported by the occasional hint of sweetness. Toward the end it got stronger and much more enjoyable. It was smokeable to the nub. Great performance for a cigar that was supposedly neglected by the marketplace.

If you are one of the lucky cigar-munchers who realized that this brand is a steal and bought a box or two before they sold out, my hat goes off to you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

RP Cuban Blend: Decent Mid-Priced Offering

It's safe to say that Rocky Patel seldom sells a bad cigar, and that his price points usually mirror the quality of his products.

The Rocky Patel Cuban Blend (natural wrapper, toro size) is no exception. It's a medium-priced cigar with medium-priced performace - reliable in construction and burn, as all Rockies I've encountered, but lacking the out-of-body experience you might expect from one of his top-shelf blends.

The medium-bodied RP Cuban Blend burns well with a nice relaxed draw, and produces a spicy aroma. The flavor was nothing special, similar in character to an RP Sun Grown but not quite as rich. The development was minimal, maintaining a steady fullness and satisfying volume of smoke all the way through. It turned bitter before the nub, leaving about 1.5 inches unused.

A decent cigar for the $2.50 sale price I paid, but not a mind-blower.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

1964: A Good Year for the Beatles, But not Padron?

Price is no indicator of quality.

Let me say it again: Price is NO indicator of quality. If you like cigars and don't like wasting money, memorize those 6 key words.

I can think of a dozen cigars that I've enjoyed more than the extremely expensive ($14 list price, higher at retail) Padron 1964 Imperial maduro. This long, handsome, square-pressed, well-constructed cigar offers a good draw and burn but nothing much else special to speak of. The flavor was fairly strong and peppery and held up without modulation for a good 90 minutes or longer.

My complaint is that for this high a price, you'd expect more: Some nuanced flavor characteristics, some development, some "aha" or "whoa" moments as you puff away at each 2-dollar-plus inch. Instead it's just a straightforward head-buzzer of a smoke, like dozens of other maduro cigars that cost half as much. And the construction was not exactly perfect: It went out at the halfway point, and I had to pick up the pace and smoke it a little hotter than usual for fear it might go out again. I didn't even try to "nub" it, but let it go out with 1.5 inches remaining: Bitterness had set in. A perfect specimen it was NOT.

So, in summary, another overpriced disappointment on a par with the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Series. Overhyped, overpriced, and overused by people who apparently choose their cigars for prestige not pleasure.

And what about those dozen cheaper cigars I mentioned that offer equally good or better quality in the dark, full-bodied category? Here goes: Rocky Patel Vintage 92. La Flor Dominicana Chisel. Oliva Series G. Carlos Torano 1959. 5 Vegas classic (yes, the reviled 5 Vegas). Gurkha Regent (not exactly cheap, but cheaper and easier to find). CAO Italia. Almost every dark-wrapped Camacho ever made. Padron's own (and much cheaper) Londres or Ambassador maduros. The list goes on and on.

Repeat after me: Price is no indicator of quality...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

IT Cameroon Legend Grand Robusto - Strange but Good

A friend of mine recently tried an Indian Tabac Cameroon Legend (grand robusto) and his only comment was merely "it's different."

You mean good, I asked, or just different? He wouldn't say.

Well, I will unequivocally say that this cigar may be strange, but it's good. It is certainly a welcome diversion from the usual limited pallette of cigar flavors that fall into simple categories of mild, strong, sweet or earthy. No, this cigar is a true curve ball, tasting strong yet somehow cool and minty, with hints of flint, cinnamon, licorice or (dare I say it) chocolate in the finish. I liken smoking this highly variegated specimen to the experience of eating a strange chocolate truffle from France, tasting unusual ingredients, trying to read the wrapper in a language you don't understand, then finally giving up and saying, OK, I like it. No matter what strange things they put in there.

I'm guessing half the people who normally like Indian Tabac maduros and corojos will find this a repugnant, disgusting cigar reminding them of mushrooms roasted in chocolate. The other half will find it charmingly refreshingly, offbeat and unusual, and something to break the usual rotation.

In any case it is worth a try.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What Happened to My Indians?

As you can see by my trail of recurring posts on the subject, I've long been an avid Indian Tabac Super Fuerte robusto fan, holding it in high esteem as one of the tastiest and strongest habano-wrapped cheapies on the market. I was so impressed that I even bought a whole box of them last August for the astoundingly low one-day sale price of $25.

The ITSF robusto became my go-to smoke, the one I pulled out when wasn't sure what I wanted or when the weather wasn't conducive for an expensive cigar or when the wife might decide at any minute it was time to drag me to the latest chick flick.

Anyway, to make a long story short, several months went by since my last IT Super Fuerte robusto, and I only recently found myself in a position to smoke them again.

I've had two in the past few weeks. But something has changed. They're different now. They've mutated during the months of humidor rest into some other than the crackly, stringent, mind-blowing cheapies they were when I bought them. Time has mellowed them into something I'm not sure I like - something almost laid-back, subdued and - dare I say it - mellow.

No, they aren't "mild." They've just lost the energy and puppy-like zest that made me love them. They've become refined, somber, and almost complex. I liked them better when they were a one dimensional kick-your-ass and take no prisoners cigar.

If this is the fabled aging effect, I guess I'd better beware. Wonder what's going to happen to the Gurkhas and CAOs and RP Vintages I've been squirreling away at the bottom of the humidor for the past 18 months? I'm almost afraid to find out.

5 Vegas Series A

Quick note on the 5 Vegas Series A "Artesan" (robusto). It's a nice, strong, chewy dust-on-the-pavement type of cigar. It didn't develop into anything sensational, but didn't lose it's momentum either. Smoked well all the way to the nub without getting bitter.

Flavor character was dark and chalky and hard to describe, but not unpleasant. Similar to Hoyo 2nds or Montecristo Media Noche, but better and stronger than both.

Judgement reserved until I try a couple more.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rocky OSG Torpedo: Mild and Incompetent

I've commented before on the pleasantly strong but disappointingly short-lived RP OSG corona.

Now for the Rocky Patel OSG torpedo, a mammoth-sized, brawny-looking stogie that would seem to be a bargain at the now reduced price of $39.95 per bundle of 18.

It's not. Unlike its little corona sister, the OSG torpedo is mild and undistinguished in flavor - better than a Dominican, maybe, but nowhere near Rocky's usual capacity for complexity and wonder. And, just like it's naughty little sister, the OSG torpedo loses steam at mid point, in this case suffering a complete breakdown in construction. On mine, the burn gradually tunnelled in towards the center and snuffed itself out. After snipping off and re-lighting, all I got was charcoal.

So: Weak flavor + improper construction = Dud cigar.

The entire OSG line was "a dog in the sales department" for a reason. This is simply a sub-paar line of cigars, with undependable construction and uneven blending from size to size. The coronas are a decent smoke for the first 2 inches. But stay away from the torpedos, no matter how tempting they might look in a low-bid auction situation. You will only be saving a buck to spite the smoker, i.e. yourself.

Don Tomas Sun Grown Rubusto

In the cigar world, "You get what you pay for" is a statement that hardly ever rings true. Either you pay too much for a legendary brand that tastes like dog-breath, or you get surprised by a reviled no-name that tastes better than market leaders costing four times as much.

In the case of Don Tomas Sun Grown robusto, you really do get what you pay for: A cheap cigar that performs adequately (draw was a bit tight) and has a mild flavor appropriate for morning consumption.

Basically an uninteresting cigar. But this brand doesn't pretend to be anything else, and is priced accordingly. If you're devoted to cheap, mild cigars, go for it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another Montecristo Snorer

Two words regarding the Montecristo Media Noche Edmundo: DON'T BOTHER.

It draws well, burns well, and looks good in your hand. Fine, if that's all you care about in a cigar. Because despite its tantalizingly dark appearance, this super-fat robusto has absolutely no flavor. Not harsh, not bitter, not charcoaly, not burnt-toasty, not shockingly horrible. Just bland. Nothing.

I doused it out at midpoint. It wasn't going to get any better.

A long time ago I tried the Montecristo White, one of the world's wimpiest and most overrated cigars. And now that I've had its opposite, the supposedly high-powered Media Noche, I'll never smoke another one of these preposterously overpriced status symbols again. Don't even try giving me a Montecristo. I won't take it. Give it to your dog.

Two words to describe the whole line of non-Cuban Montecristos: BOR-ING.

Maybe the Cubans do it better. One can only hope.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Good Cheap Perdomo, Beer Optional

I am pleased to report on the excellent quality of one of Perdomo's cheaper cigars, the 826 Slow Aged maduro (robusto size). I'd acquired a 5-pack these months ago at a rock-bottom bid (5 bucks!) at a auction and had tucked them away in my humidor, assuming they were dog rockets.

Wrong, Einstein. The first one of the bunch burned well, drew well, and had excellent nutty maduro flavor in the mid to strong taste range. If the wind hadn't tipped my beer over into my ashtray, I would have enjoyed it even more. (Yes, I was smoking in the wind, fiendish fool that I am. The fact that a cigar this cheap tasted this good despite 30 mph gusts is yet more testament to its quality). I ended up snipping off the wet end and lighting the unjustly foreshortened stogie all over again. No matter. It picked up right where it had left off, giving me loads of ample and surprisingly refined smoking pleasure.

I look forward to polishing off the rest of these underpublicized and reasonably priced gems under normal weather conditions. Even at their normal box price of $40, you can't beat em. And for a buck per stick at auction, you can safely say you are STICKING IT TO THE MAN.

Which in this case probably wouldn't be Nick Perdomo, but rather the faceless distributor who didn't make its usual obscene markup.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rocky Patel OSG: On Second Thought...

After my first review of a Rocky Patel "Original Sun Grown" corona a few months ago, I'm returning with an update.

I've had a couple more OSG coronas since then, and have noticed that they maintain their quality for only about 2 inches, i.e. you are only getting a half-smokeable cigar.

However, at today's prices (dropped recently to $39.95 for bundle of 18 at CI; winning bids as low as $28.00 on you might decide that half a cigar is worth the price. Looking at it this way, a Rocky Patel OSG corona is a great 20-minute smoke, and now quite affordable. Just remember to toss out the second half, before it turns bitter and charcoaly and ruins your memory of the previous 20 minutes.

Hitting the Jackpot: 5 Vegas Classic Torpedo

Note: The deliriously misguided review below has since been retracted. I leave it here only so that you can see what delusions a man will suffer when he hasn't smoked a cigar for two weeks. Read at your own peril...


What a wonderful thing it is to be surprised by a high-performing inexpensive cigar!

Several months ago, someone gave me two 5 Vegas cigars - one "classic" torpedo from the bottom shelf, and one "Limitada 06" from the top shelf. Thinking the 06 would certainly be the better of the two, I smoked it a few months ago and found it satisfying but not eye-popping.

Then yesterday, encountering beautiful weather for the first time in weeks, I almost took out one of my super-expensive "saving for the right moment" cigars to smoke out on my deck. Unfortunately there was quite a breeze blowing, which can really notch down the experience of a cigar, no matter how high its caliber. So I opted instead for a cheaper cigar. This time, the 5 Vegas "classic" torpedo.

The 5 Vegas line seems to be the victim of a certain amount of disdain among cigar snobs. I haven't seen a magazine review of one in the 17-plus months that I've been a cigarhead, and bloggers seem relatively unmoved. However, based on my experience last night, I urge all of you to go out and buy a five-pack or at least a single 5 Vegas classic torpedo. This thing is incredible for the price, and can easily hold its own with cigars twice as expensive.

To start off, the 5-V torpedo was constructed excellently, with an oily, firm, deep brown sumatra wrapper that gave way just a little upon a squeeze. The band slid right off and, looking at this thing naked, I could have sworn it was a 15-dollar cigar (not me naked, the cigar).

Upon lighting, the smoke was immediately cool, powdery, billowy, and full. The flavor had a mixture of earth, wood and cedary sweetness that are hard to come by in any cigar, much less a lower-shelf one. Touches of coffee, cereal, maple and mineral were also in evidence, i.e. the whole shebang. Although the flavor didn't "develop" midway like a Rocky or a Camacho, it was perfectly balanced from the start, and maintained that balance until the last inch.

What an undervalued, underappreciated cigar! If my humidor wasn't already stuffed to the gills, I'd order a box of these or bid up a few 5-packs at

I can't speak for any other sizes in the 5 Vegas classic line, but the torpedo is a winner.

Note: The one I smoked had five months of nap time in my humidor. So you might want to put yours to bed for a while before lighting 'er up. A bit of beauty sleep makes any cigar more refreshing.

H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon Corona

The corona-sized H. Upmann Cameroon won a 90 rating a few months back in Cigar Aficionado. I also took note of it because of its relatively low price point, listing at around $4.25, if I recall. I finally got around to trying one and was slightly disappointed. Although it earns its 90 in terms of appearance, construction, draw and burn, it falls short on flavor.

Flavor, in my book, counts for the lion's share of any cigar experience, as long as the other attributes are working properly. I mean, who wants to smoke an excellently constructed, perfectly burning, fine drawing 17-dollar cigar that tastes like play-dough? (Actually, plenty of people seem to do just that, including some of the lucky "I smoke cigars for a living" aesthetes at at Cigar Aficionado). I think the cigar snobs have it wrong when they over-weight any of the other categories compared to taste. However, that is a much-debated argument and one I won't continue to elaborate on here.

Back to the Upmann Cameroon corona: It's flavor was not especially sweet, peppery, woody, chocolately, fruity, cedary or any of the other more far-fetched attributes that we cigar freaks like to think we taste in good cigars (Plum? Basil? Anthracite, anyone?). It was just a nice, medium-bodied, tobacco-flavored cigar, similar in my mind to the natural-wrapped Arturo Fuente's I've had. The smoke was pleasanty thick, a bit toasty, and pleasantly full for cigar of this ring gauge. It did not turn bitter until the last inch.

I don't plan to smoke another one of these again, but I recommend it for the price. Try it once, you might like it. Not my particular cup of tea, but then again I don't like tea that much, either. Some people do.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Quick notes

Rocky Patel Vintage 2nds 92 perfecto - continues to be a good mini-smoke upon multiple outings. Better than the Fuente Hemingway short story, and a hell of a lot cheaper. This one had excellent burn and body from first puff. Never hot or bitter, although others have evidenced this previously. I think the improved performance was due to the fact that I'm no longer chugging these in below-freezing temperatures. Cold weather truly does dampen the experience, no matter how high the quality of your stick. Got nearly 30 minutes out of this one, the longest so far. Again, not hot-boxing while freezing one's ass off truly makes a different experience.

Alec Bradley Maxx Nano (petite corona)- second time just as good as the first. Tangy, slightly minty and a touch of cream. Excellent for a 4-inch cigar.

Perdomo Lot 23 robusto (natural) - every bit as good as the recent Aficionado 90 rating. Immediate good flavor, rich body, full without being heavy. Creamy undertones, developing throughout. A high-quality mid-priced cigar that smoked well up to the last third. Quite rich for a non-maduro. For the price ($6.50, 4 bucks online) you can't get much better. I'll have to try the maduro version next time.

Indian Tabac Candela Toro - nice easy draw, full thick smoke, nondescript at first but warming in the middle to a nice meaty autumnal flavor. Another reliable Rocky Patel product at the affordable end of the scale.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Giving Hemingway a Bad Name

I would have expected more from a Cameroon, and more from a name as fabled as Fuente Hemingway. The Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature, a long, narrow perfecto-shaped cigar, costs lots of money and looks awfully good in your humidor. It's got a nice brown hue and holds all the sweet and spicy promise of its Cameroon wrapper.

But light it up and you will find another boring, expensive cigar. There is no kick, nuance, fullness, or development. Just a rather wimpy, wistful, much-too subtle stick jutting out of your disappointed mouth. The burn is good and the cigar looks fashionable. It draws well and produces a decent, although not hearty, cloud of smoke. Is that enough to justify 13 dollars? No. Because the one thing missing was flavor.

Without flavor, you're just posing. Sports fans, that's not why I smoke a cigar. I'll step out of the ring now and leave the Arturo Hemingway series to fans who have an unshakeable belief in the brand, flavor be damned. The Fuente brand will survive my approbation. That's the power of a name.

Olor Fuerte Corona

This corona was almost indistinguishable from the Olor Nicaragua corona I smoked a few months ago. Same crisp, somewhat hearty hickory tinged flavor, but very one-dimensional and tight on the draw. Also a bit hot. A good cheap cigar, but not priced quite low enough.

I'm guessing the larger ring sizes might be better. But I won't be bidding or ordering a box to find out. Bye-bye, Olor.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

New tastings

Hoyo 2nds robusto maduro:
A cigar-chugging buddy of mine asked me if I'd had any good cigars lately. I told him the last one I had was a 3-dollar cheapie: I've got a dog to feed and two kids to put through college, so unlike some better-apportioned dudes I can't spring 12 bucks every time I wander into a cigar emporium.

So, low on funds yet again, I stooped to the bargain bin and picked out a Hoyo 2nd. It was small deep-brown robusto - about 4.5 inches long. The shop owner assured me that though it was cheap, it was tasty. The best value in the store, in fact. I trust this guy because he's 6-feet-4, bald and looks like he could wrestle an 800 pound gorilla to the ground. I was pumped. I lit the Hoyo and lo and behold was presented with a strong, flinty dark-woodsy taste. Full of body and flavor, and yes great for the price. It turned bitter in the last third, but what do you expect for 3 bucks?

Cigars International is selling them for 25 bucks a box, I think. Now there's a bargain, if you're a fiend who can't smoke the highfalutin stuff every time.

Rocky Patel Sun Grown petite corona:
This one started out hot and nondescript. Had me worried for the first inch. Then it settled into the flaky-pastry, fresh-from-the-oven chewy richness you would expect from a Rocky. Got better and better as the cigar burned down. The last inch was even good. The only complaint I would have is that it's just too small. But I knew that when I bought it. Now if someone could create a petite corona that tasted great from the first puff...

Oliva Series G special G:
Passed this one to my wife on the first decent spring day out on our deck. Still I manged to sneak a few puffs. It was the last one in my humidor, and I won't buy them again. Tends too much toward the hot and bitter, with only 10 minutes of a sweet spot in the middle. Small perfectos are hard to get right. Even the Fuente Hemingway short stories are far overrated. The best bet for a short bulbo is still the Rocky Patel 92 mini perfecto. And even that is a far cry from stogie paradise.

Lovo Perfecto:
Not sure what's inside this, but it had a brown wrapper. Probably corojo, about 4.5 inches long, bulbous mini-perfecto shape a la Hemingway short story. This cigar had the strangest burn I've ever witnessed: After lighting the small tapered bulb, a little island of fire appeared about a centimeter up the wrapper. Like a rusted-out hole in a muffler. I was afraid the whole thing would fall apart like some aborted Apollo Space mission.

After a minute of frantic puffing, I got the fire island to be subsumed by the rest of the burn coming up behind it. The cigar then settled down and tasted serviceable, flinty, strong but not full. It had barely a hint of sweetness that never quite materialized. It was a somewhat flat experience overall. Rolled by Edga Lovo Ramaz. Her dark-wrapped cigars are better, in my opinion.

Again, I think the mini-perfecto shape is an inredible challenge to roll right, and I haven't smoked one that ever tasted fulfilling. Lovo's was on a par with the others, including Fuente. Except for the freakish burn, which was actually somewhat thrilling, because I actually thought the cigar might explode in my face.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Latest Samplings

Visited "Lovo Cigars" - interesting one-woman shop in downtown Las Vegas. Her robusto maduro was excellent, only $5.00. I bought several other varieties from her and will be commenting on them in the months ahead. Her website is mysteriously sketchy and half in Spanish. But the woman knows how to roll a cigar. In her shop, she's got picture of herself standing next to celebrities like Arnold Schwartzenegger and Bruce Willis, apparenty smoking her cigars. She said Arnold likes to order boxes of the huge bombastic corojo Churchills that I saw in her store humidor.

Fuente Hemingway Short Story: Disappointment. Would be a good 4-dollar cigar. Problem is, it costs $10. Way too much money for a mini-perfecto that's just as hot and one-dimensional as anybody elses. Mini perfectos suck, let's face it. There's nothing anyone can do about it. Even Rocky Patel comes out limp-wristed. Maybe the Cubans get it right. God knows, somebody needs to.

5-Vegas Limitada '06 torpedo: Good hearty crunchy smoke. Cereal, peppery, slight undertone of vanilla. Draw a little to tight for my liking. No big deal, some people like a medium draw. I prefer loose and puffy, with a dense fog of smoke slithering over my defenseless palate. The 5-Vegas 06 was more like a milk shake. You have to work at it, but the reward is ample, especially when it loosens up toward the end.

Java corona: Could do without the sweetened head. Otherwise a good strong mocha-like flavor. Nice square-press, easy draw. Honestly, get rid of the sweet tip, Mr. Drew. A cigar at this price and quality should be able to stand on its own merits.

Ashton Senorita: Decent "dry" cigar, not too hot or bitter. Must check on price. Great deal if they're cheap. I didn't seek this one out. A colleague of mine got a free box at an Ashton event, and gave me a stick. I wished he'd given me a Heritage Puro Sol instead. Guess I'll have to do what everyone else does, and go out and buy one...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Small Serviceable Rocky Patel OSG

Review of Rocky Patel OSG Petite Corona:

"Original" sun grown? As opposed to "standard" sun grown? Ah, the stories these distributors tell. Who knows if any of it is true, or what it means? Bottom line is, the Rocky Patel OSG petite coronas are decent little stogies, especially if the price goes down again. Right now you can get 18 of these for $49.95 at Cigars International. Still a bit on the high side for a cigar blend that is widely acknowledged to be inferior to the standard RP sun growns.

And just how inferior are they? Not bad, actually. Like most other full-bodied Rockies, the OSG has a deep, solid burn that you can leave unattended for several minutes at a time. Which is exactly what I did, stepping out to the porch every 5 or 6 minutes to steal a few puffs in the freezing cold, then running back inside and watching the tube. You can do this with a Rocky and not worry about having to relight.

This particular OSG was pleasingly strong and tart, with a bit of salty citrous flavor on top of the usual Rocky brawn. You won't be "oohing and aahing" the whole time, but you will certainly nod your head appreciatively. One of the better small cigars I've had, big enough to smoke like a "real" cigar with a slow burn that doesn't get hot or bitter.

I look forward to having a few more of these. I'll update this posting if the experience changes over multiple samplings.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

El Rey of Reckoning

I recently visited my local cigar store and bought a robusto/maduro version of the El Rey del Mundo. Turns out I liked the little brother better. The fat robusto, while wrapped in an enticing white tissue paper that implied something extra special inside, smoked richly but without any special flavor. There was only the slightest, occasional hint of the mysterious powdery oriental spice that graces the pallet when smoking the lighter-shaded junior.

Not to misrepresent; it was a decent cigar, one that most aficionados would likely rave about. Just a bit plain... ash and pepper and barely perceptible cedar, like a hundred other cigars. I'm not giving up on the El Rey line just yet. I'll try another variety or two, to see if any of the fatter boys can deliver a punchier version of the elusive and funky junior.

Another factor to consider: Smoking in a crowded cigar lounge dampens the experience, no matter how good the stogie. The best way to do it is outside, on a warm and windless day. Stuck in a lounge, with the other lizards' lingering exhalations searing your nose, stinging your eyes, and turning your clothing into a hazmat disposal project, it's hard to convince yourself that the cigar you just paid 7 dollars for is the cat's pajamas.

Bring back those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer. My cigars are crying inside their humidor.