Sunday, May 22, 2011

Illusione ~mk~

5 1/8 x 42

Not part of the original "Original Document" line from Illusione, the ~MK~ is a petite corona, blended with Corojo '99, Criollo '98, and the Cafe Colorado wrapper used on all of Dion's Illusione cigars. Despite being one of the smaller sizes in the line, it is billed as being among the strongest of the line. The brand's website specifically mentions the sweetness brought on by the high quality Viso used in the blend.

This particular ~mk~ has an oily, chocolate brown wrapper, with just a touch of red to it. It has a fairly heavy vein structure, more than I expected from this brand. Still an attractive wrapper though. The filler looks and feels great, and well packed. The whole stick has just the right amount of give to it. The aroma from the wrapper is just a gentle tobacco, and a somewhat musty note to it. The foot, however, offers a potent mix of dusty chocolate, the same musty tobacco from the wrapper, and leather. The cold draw is free, and tastes of chocolate, leather, and a slight earthy vegetal note. It also offers just a tingle of spice across the tongue.

Lit at 1:45pm.

The immediate flavor profile is sweet and savory all at once, combining sweet cocoa, that really lingers, with a spicy pepper and leather on the finish. There is a strong floral character, as well as a touch of dark fruit as well. Here's hoping this level of complexity this early is a sign of great things to follow.

The ash on this cigar is a brilliant, bright white, and is somewhat flakey. This is something I have noticed with the O.D. Illusione cigars previously, in several vitolas, so you have to be careful. The ash falls for the first time, for example, and a little less than 3/4 of an inch... in my lap. D'oh! There also appears to be just a touch of tunneling going on in one spot, so I will have to keep an eye on that. The flavor profile a little way into the first third here has gotten a bit heavier. At its core it features now a thick, oily leather, with just a nuance of that dusty sweet cocoa, and floral, dark fruit. The peppery finish has come down a touch, and is now a lingering, smooth flavor and sensation that sits in the back of the throat. The burn line is not razor sharp by any means, but keeps fine pace with itself, catching up within a few draws, before going weird again... and then catching up just fine.

Just a hair past the halfway point the Black Cherry flavor that people talk about with Illusione has just, all of the sudden, become very apparent. It isn't even just a subtle touch of Black Cherry. It is a heavy, sweet, dense flavor, that is strangely awesome with the leather that remains the core. The peppery finish has all but diminished completely. I have had to be careful, as I find myself almost smoking too slowly. For some reason this cigar is burning like a smaller ring gauge than it is, requiring a bit more attention to keep it going properly. Just something to keep in mind.

With about an inch and a half left, the flavor profile shifts yet again, with a sweet, earthy dark chocolate taking the forefront, and the spicy finish once again returning, much the same as it was in the beginning. Burn line has been pretty straight for a few inches now. Smoke production throughout the entire cigar has been great. Tons of thick, white smoke.

Ended at 3:00 pm for a total smoke time of one hour fifteen minutes. Great length of time for this size, and boy does it deliver on the flavor front. This level of complexity is just very satisfying, and is one example of what makes smoking cigars such an enjoyable experience for me, personally. I see this cigar taking its place as one I will revisit often (box worthy for sure). Performs wonderfully as well. Despite a weird burn line at times, and a tendency to want to go out if not given enough attention, it never was problematic at all. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Arturo Fuente Anejo 50

5 1/4 x 50 "No. 50"

Tonight I am smoking a stick I have enjoyed on several occasions in the past, the Arturo Fuente Anejo. Tonight I am smoking the robusto sized Number 50. The story behind the Anejo is that a little over a decade ago a hurricane wiped out the crop for the Opus X wrappers. A few years later it resulted in a shortage, so Carlito used the extra Opus fillers, tweaked the blend, and wrapped it in a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper, aged five years, part of that in a Cognac barrel. It has a unique flavor profile, and an impressive lineage. The Anejo is not a regularly available line, released only a couple of times each year (I have read quarterly, and at father's day/Christmas, what is correct, I'm not positive). Regardless, they are something special, and are a cigar that some people have been known to age for years and years before smoking.

This particular example comes from the Winter 2010 release. I have had it for around 6 months now. This stick features a very dark, almost black wrapper with minimal veins, and a lot of tooth. The pack feels even, but very firm. The aroma from the foot has a very distinct combination of cinnamon and raisin, and is very sweet. The cold draw has a decent resistance (not quite firm though), and tastes of the same raisin/dried fruit, plus cinnamon sweetness, with just a touch of vanilla bean, and a hint of spice. Complex pre-light, let's hope it stays that way once burning. I have a feeling it will.

Lit at 8:07pm.

Once lit evenly, it has an even draw, with a good amount of cedar (not a huge surprise since these come wrapped in cedar), coffee sweetness, and a heavy hot pepper spice on the finish, which lingers for a good time. Smoke production is awesome. Great start.

Getting about an inch in, the ash is a bright white color, showing tons of little bubbles from the toothy wrapper, and holds very firmly. The burn line is razor sharp. The flavor profile consists of a burnt wood sweetness, a very oaky flavor, followed by a touch of black coffee bitterness, and a long spicy finish. Through the nose there is a meaty quality, black pepper and, well, roasted meat. The performance is flawless, and the flavors are great. So far, so very, very good.

Approaching the halfway mark, the sweetness has subsided a bit, while the dark, coffee flavor has become more prominent. The black pepper remains strong, especially through the nose. The strength has been medium, maybe medium-full at most, but the body is definitely up there. Just a rich, dark, heaviness to this cigar overall.

Closing in on the band point, the mouthfeel is downright syrupy. The smoke is chewy and rich. The flavor profile remains a combination of black coffee and peppery meat. The initial cinnamon flavor has also come back in a big way. The complexity of this flavor profile is really something special, and is, so far, one of the finest examples of a maduro wrapped cigar.

Ended at 9:45 for a total smoke time of one hour 38 minutes. This is a pretty typical length of time for a well built robusto in my experience. Through this time it performed nothing short of flawlessly. The burn line remained razor sharp, the draw was perfect, and the ash held for several inches before falling each time. The flavor profile is complex, and changes several times as it burns down.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

CroMagnon EMH

5x56 "Early Modern Human"

This evening I'm going to be lighting up the second vitola in the CroMagnon taxonomy... The EMH, or Early Modern Human. This cigar is a 5x56 Robusto Extra, a fat, stout beast indeed. It features, as I have previously noted with the CroMagnon cigars, a very very oily wrapper leaf. For a bit of info about the line itself, see my previous review or the CroMagnon Mandible (I see no point in repeating essentially the same paragraph...)

This particular example is part of a sampler I purchased from Hava Cigar shop. It features a somewhat lighter colored wrapper than some of the others that I have. That said, it lacks none of the slick oily appearance. It has a somewhat rustic, veiny appearance, appropriate for the theme that this line carries. The aroma from the wrapper is a simple dirty tobacco. The foot offers the same earthy character, with the addition of some cocoa sweetness, and a tangy spice, like cumin. The cold draw is free, and offers a heavy, dark earth core, with a significant amount of spice across the palate. One thing it does not have is any of the significant sweetness the other size I have smoked had.

Lit at 6:44pm.

Immediately the flavor profile has an earthy, charred wood core, and accompanying oak sweetness, with a significant blast of pepper spice that lingers through the finish. It's a good thing I at a @ChiefHava sized burger for lunch today, because the strength is already apparent within the first few draws. This is going to be a strong one.

About 3/4 of an inch in, and things are progressing nicely on the flavor front. Continues to deliver a dark earthy core, with a great wood flavor, and a heavy pepper heat through the finish. The problem I am encountering, and this is something I noticed with the last one as well, is that the wrapper burns fairly unevenly, and has already required a pretty good touch up. Not something that is going to keep me from enjoying the cigar (I have a lighter with me afterall, thus, touch ups aren't some huge issue) but just a slight annoyance.

Just past the one inch mark, I'm starting to get a bitter, roasted coffee bean flavor, which is a nice development. It is one of those flavors that is interesting as it transitions into the hot pepper finish. The burn continues to be a little awkward, but the draw and smoke production are fantastic. I'm not sure if it is the humidity outside, or the cigar itself, but it takes a couple of puffs each time I draw to really get this one going. Given the similar issues I had with the last one, it may well be the cigar.

Regardless of burn issues, the flavors continue to be bold, and strong. The body and strength are pretty... bold as well. Feeling this one already at the halfway mark. Also starting to see some flavor shifts at this point, with the sweetness initially present dropping off almost completely. A musty, old leather character takes over though, and is nice with the bitter coffee, and peppery finish. The spicy finish is one thing that has me sort of impressed. Normally when cigars have a lot of spice up front early on, it drops off through the middle, and doesn't come back until the end. Not the EMH. It has been consistently hot (and I don't mean it is burning hot) all the way.

Getting down towards the end things are getting a little hot and muddled, and I have a little bit of tunneling going on. The flavor starts to become less defined as well. Not a huge issue though, and something that happens with plenty of sticks.

Ended at 8:15pm for a total smoke time of and hour and a half. Flavorwise, this is yet another example of complexity that is bold and in your face, with more than enough strength and body to back it up. I look forward, as with the Mandible, to seeing how these progress with some age. They certainly have the oil, body, and flavor to benefit from some serious down time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ashton ESG

6 3/4 x 49 "20 Year Salute"

The Estate Sun Grown is the most expensive, supposedly hardest to find cigar in the regular Ashton portfolio. It represents a combined effort between Robert Levin, founder of Ashton, and Carlos Fuente Jr., the man behind Fuente's Opus X among other triumphs. This cigar was conceived as a celebration of 20 years in the industry for Ashton, and the pedigree that the blend carries certainly seems worthy of it. It features a tweaked VSG filler blend, contained within a sungrown variant of the Opus X Rosado wrapper. It is now available in 4 sizes, with one vitola being added to the line annually following the original release, the "20 Year Salute" (also available are a large robusto, a torpedo, and a toro).

The particular example I have today is the 20 Year Salute, which is close to a Churchill in dimensions, and features a gorgeous burnt caramel colored wrapper, with a slightly dusty tooh to it, and that soaked up oil look. The veins in the wrapper leaf are visible, but smooth to the touch, and as is typical of high end Fuente productions, the construction appears impeccable, triple cap, tight seams, even, full packing... And the band is a true work of art, that rivals the Opus X for intricacy. It features plenty of gold leaf work, flowers, and two painted scenes of tropical life. This is a Dominican puro, though the aroma from the wrapper and foot don't really suggest that. It has a smell that reminds me of shortbread from the wrapper, with an additional element of spice and toasty tobacco at the foot. Removing the cap reveals a snug draw full of spicy, earthy tobacco, a touch of floral sweetness, and a musty leather. Given the blend, and the MSRP on these, I have high expectations. So far they are being met...

Lit at 5:50pm.

The initial profile is not really what I expected. It offers a mild, toasty tobacco, and just a touch of peppery spice that lingers gently on the finish. There is just a touch of a leather flavor on the draw as well. Despite having a ight draw, smoke production is great, and the burn seems to be moving evenly as well.

Getting about an inch in, I am still surprised by how smooth and honestly... mild this cigar has been. It has a musty leather core, with just a touch of pepper spice on the finish, and through the nose a delicate floral sweetness. These are all delicious flavors, perfectly blended, and absolutely not at all what I expected. The ash falls off for the first time after about an inch and a half, revealing a perfect burn underneath. The draw at this time remains tighter than I prefer.

Around the halfway mark the body is starting to come up a bit, as is the strength, and flavor. Mouthfeel has gotten heavier as well. The draw is opening up too. Makes me wonder if there was something in the filler that I burned through... Anyway, flavor profile is now sweeter, and spicier. Sweeter on the draw, still a sweet woody flavor, with musty leather at the core, with a spicy finish that is a bit more substantial than before. At this point it is becoming a bit more like what I expected this cigar to be.

Smoking almost to the band point (granted the band is pretty large on this one) everything is starting to remind me more of the Opus X cigars that, in a way, this stick shares a wrapper with (albeit this is a sungrown version). It has a cinnamon spice with the sweet wood flavor, a musty old leather core that ties everything together, and finally a spicy, peppery finish. That said, despite the substantial increase in heavier flavor and overall feel, the nicotine strength has only increased marginally. I'm sort of taken aback by the dramatic change that this cigar has made. I one thing worth noting however is that this change occured gradually, over the course of maybe an inch or two, which makes it an interesting, positive development in my book. I'm not sure, as this is the only ESG I have ever smoked, if this transition is typical, or if I got an oddball stick. I sort of hope it is intentional though, as it makes this a unique, and interesting cigar in the portfolio of "Opus-related/wrapper sharing/whatever" cigars, which are personally some of my favorites, generally.

As the final third takes fire, the strength has started to come up, and I am feeling it in my empty stomach. Oops. The flavor profile continues to get richer, and heavier. The smoke itself is getting spicy, and chewy. As I get closer to the end the strength only continues to build, maybe a little bit too much in fact. By the end it is definitely a pretty full bodied smoke.

Ended at 8:00pm, for a total smoke time of just over 2 hours. Despite a sort of slow start, by the end this became a really impressive, complex smoke. The price is a bit high on these, compared to other, similar cigars, but it certainly performs just as well as any other high end cigars.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CroMagnon Mandible

4.5x60 "MANDIBLE"

I don't really know the whole story behind the CroMagnon brand, other than the fact that Twitter cigar magnate Skip Martin aka. @ChiefHava and Adrian's have teamed up to produce a dark, rustic, powerful cigar that based on what I know of Skip's smoking habits, pretty much is a combination of the common elements in the cigars he seems to smoke a lot of. I recently picked up a sampler of the lineup (the "taxonomy", they call it), and while the vitolas are pretty far from what I normally smoke (mostly larger rings, where I smoke mostly coronas and lonsdales), this time the marketing got to me, and I had to give it a shot. Up first is the Mandible, the size I am least looking forward to, a so called "petite gordo", in other words, a NUB size, 4.5x60. The blend is interesting, using Nicaraguan filler, a Cameroon binder (which contributes a very specific flavor and even aroma in my experience), and a gorgeous Broadleaf wrapper.

The first thing I noticed when I took these sticks out of the box was the amazing wrappers. They are a dark chocolate brown maduro, with the heaviest, slickest oil sheen I have ever seen on a cigar. I mean these things look like they have been treated with Soul Glo, Afro Sheen, the works... And they smell great too. The wrapper gives off a musty, old barn smell, while the foot offers the same, with the addition of a sweet floral note, and a bit of a bready smell. The cold draw is a little tight, and offers a profile of dusty cocoa powder, medium tobacco, and just an overall earthy density. I just cannot get over the wrapper... The only thing that I can think of that is remotely similar is the wrapper on the LFD DL Maduros.

Lit at 9:33 pm.

The initial flavor profile is rich, combining a sweet dark chocolate, with a slightly fruity note, like black cherry, and a dark, black pepper finish that lingers, and comes on slowly.... lumbering like a caveman even... Despite a tight draw, this thing is already smoking easily, producing plenty of oily, chewy, clinging smoke. Burn line is a little iffy... hoping it will straighten out. Good start.

Progressing a little further, the flavor profile has changed a few times (or rather a few flavors have come and gone) including an oaky wood flavor, wet and sweet, and a bread flavor, like what I got on the cold draw. About 3/4 of an inch in, and things have pretty much settled into dusty cocoa on the draw, followed by a floral/fruit note, like cherry and... well something floral, and a long, black pepper finish. Already, the strength is noticeable. I am not a smoker of a lot of really strong cigars, so that may have something to do with it, but I also am somewhat aware of the smoking habits of the man who is responsible for this cigar, and well, he is a smoker of the full stuff. The fullest stuff even. This cigar is advertised as being rustic and strong... well, it is. I ate a good dinner maybe 30 minutes before lighting up, and my stomach is feeling it. The ash is flowering just a little bit. In all fairness, these just arrived in the mail today, but were only shipped the day before yesterday, and were shipped with a 69% Boveda pack (classy!) It's also possible that I am just not used to smoking a cigar in this massive ring gauge. I typically smoke stuff in the 38-46 range... not 60's. Takes a different pace just to keep this guy burning properly.

The mouthfeel is really something with this cigar, realllly heavy, and oily. Almost has a syrupy quality to it, like smoking maple syrup. Flavor profile hasn't changed for about an inch now, still cocoa powder and a long pepper finish.

By the halfway point the strength has continued to steadily rise, as has the body, while the flavor has really not changed much. It's heavy and dark, pretty straight forward sweetness and strong pepper finish. It's a good flavor, but doesn't really offer much in the way of complexity or subtlety. Through the nose, the fruity character still is present though, which is certainly a plus for me.

Getting into the final third, the flavor profile takes on a bit of a leathery character. The sweetness has also fallen off a bit. The spice is also a bit more pronounced, less of a slow black pepper, and more of a sharp, hot pepper burn, further forward on the palate. The finish remains long a spicy though.

In the last inch the flavor pretty much drops off entirely, turning into a hot... mess. The strength has ramped up more than I like, and the flavor is just a hot, burnt wood. Ended at 11:00 exactly.

Total smoke time was an hour and a half, which is about what I expected from this size. Aside from a troubled burn line, and the downward direction of the flavor in the last third or so, this was a really enjoyable cigar, far more enjoyable than I expected from a cigar in a vitola I generally don't care for, touting strength that normally would turn me off, and just not really being a cigar blended the way I typically like them. The fruity floral notes, and sweet cocoa, combined with the strong pepper finish, all of which remain pretty consistently through the entire cigar really make this one that I look forward to revisiting, and even allowing to age. I think this has the potential, in time, to become a much more balanced, hopefully more nuanced cigar. For now it remains an interesting, tasty entry in the full body/full strength realm. Definitely something worth checking out for you guys that like 'em potent.

Monday, May 2, 2011

San Lotano Maduro

5x52 Box Pressed Robusto

This first thing that anyone is gonna notice about this cigar is the box press. It isn't just a slight press, it isn't just a regular box press... it is REALLY box pressed. Like, this thing has SHARP corners. Anyway, San Lotano is A.J. Fernandez's first brand of his own, having made his name blending and producing cigars for other people (primarily online houses, CI in particular comes to mind). The San Lotano brand is a family brand, going back to his family in Cuba, back in the day, blah blah. Fernandez is a protege of Alejandro Robaina, the master of Cuban tobacco, God rest his soul, and has become known for his full bodied, Habano wrapped blends. The San Lotano brand comes in three wrapper variations, each available in 4 vitolas (Habano, Maduro, Connecticut). The Maduro I will be reviewing today is the robusto, which features a Mexican San Andreas Maduro wrapper, Honduran binder, and a mix of fillers from various countries.

This particular example features a dark chocolate wrapper, with a slightly mottled color to it, and a toothy matte finish. The look of this cigar actually is somewhat reminiscent of the Padron x000 series. The band is something I have to *** about, as an artsy fartsy type myself... It looks like it was designed with MS Paint or something. No graphic designer should or would be proud to be responsible for this band. That said, I don't smoke cigar bands, so aside from looking weak, it doesn't matter... The cold aroma is wet, and earthy, with a touch of musty tobacco. The cold draw is sweet and creamy, and offers primarily a dark chocolate flavor, the source of the sweetness. The draw itself is a bit firm, likely owing to the ridiculous box pressing going on. The wrapper itself looks great, no veins (all smushed in the box pressing process, no doubt), and applied masterfully, with a good enough looking double cap and tight seams. The pack itself is full... this thing feels like a brick, and has almost no give to it when squeezed...

Lit at 7:47pm.

At first light, this is a somewhat lighter, softer smoke than I expected, offering a dry, soft mouthfeel, and a simple, sweet tobacco flavor, with just a touch of spice on the finish, that gradually builds as it moves across the palate. Smoke production is not great at this point, probably as a result of the slightly snug draw. The burn, after just a few draws is already a little wacky, due to the hard edges from the box pressing. Hoping these little nuisances will correct themselves as things progress.

The first third is going well, and the tight draw has actually probably kept my pace slow, which is good. The flavor profile offers a dark chocolate bitterness, and a creamy sweetness, which contrast nicely. The finish has a mild spice to it that moves around the mouth a bit, and lingers for a good length of time. There is a heaviness developing through the mouth-feel of this cigar. The smoke is dense, and oily, where it started much lighter. Burn line has also worked itself out, requiring only a pair of quick touch ups.

Ash falls for the first time just a bit into the second third. The flavor profile continues to contain a great spread of sweet, dark flavors, now with an almost oaky character mingling on on a few draws. This is not an overly strong cigar, like some of those that AJ Fernandez makes, and not as complex as some, but it offers great flavors so far, with no issues, and a balance that is superb on the palate.

Throughout the final third, unfortunately the only further development is a bit more bitterness that eventually becomes hot, and unpleasant... but only really at the end. From start to finish this is a great, inexpensive, sweet, rich, maybe not overly complex, but pleasant cigar that really delivers what I think of as the flavors I look for in a maduro wrapped cigar. Perhaps the only negative thing I could say about this cigar is that the draw remained a bit too tight the whole time, but that is something that can vary a good deal from stick to stick, so I don't put much stock in it. if this is what we can expect from AJ Fernandez in the future, I will certainly continue to pay attention. Lasted a total of 1 hour 35 minutes approximately.