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.