Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rafael Gonzalez Corona Extra

5 5/8 x 46
JUN 08

Rafael Gonzalez is a marca I literally have NO experience with. I know very little about the brand, and before receiving this particular stick as a gift recently, I had never even seen in real life. That, for me, is enough to have sparked interest and excitement, but more than that, Rafael Gonzalez is an old brand, and sadly is one that has gotten no love of late from Habanos (the Corona Extra was actually cancelled in 2010, leaving only a handful of sizes remaining in the line, much like other classic brands that are categorized as "Local Brands" in the Habanos portfolio). The Corona Extra is a classic corona gorda in size, and was first introduced before the Revolution. The marca itself has been around since the late 1920's, though according to Trevor's "Cuban Cigar Website" ( production actually stopped on the RG brand from the early 60's until 1965 when it was reinstated. I hate to turn these opening paragraphs into rants as often as I do, but Habanos treating classic brands, that have a century, or more in some cases, of history the way they do, cutting sizes, whittling brands down to nothing, is just shameful. The Cuban cigar industry is one of phenomenal HISTORY, though it seems lately, all Habanos S.A. cares to do it hop trends, slashing classic lines to bits in order to add a hot new 3x60 piece of maduro trash to one of the major share brands (read: Cohiba or Montecristo), that may appeal to the casual smoker, or the uninitiated, but is downright offensive to those who have a vested interest in "old school" "old world" classic Cuban cigars, which certainly does not have room for the junk trends that the American market is eating up right now.

Anyway, the Rafael Gonzalez Corona Extra I have here in my hand features a very reddish brown, almost clay colored wrapper, well oiled, with only very fine veins visible. The stick has taken on a slight box press from its presentation and packing in the unique looking Rafael Gonzalez dress box. The band is one of my favorites, a simple light brown strip with no decoration, only straight forward white text that tells everything you need to know... the name of the marca "MARQUEZ FLOR DE RAFAEL GONZALEZ" and the origin "HABANA". These simple brown bands (with similar designs found on several other classic cigar brands) have long been favorites of mine, in their understated simplicity, and rustic old world design. This cigar to me is about the tobacco, not the fancy-pants frills and dressings. The seams are tight, and the triple cap is flawless in its application. The bunching feels even and just slightly firm, though the cigar itself does not feel particularly heavy in the hand. The cold aroma from the foot is a toasted bread, slightly sweet, and a very subtle herbal note. The cold draw is a touch tight, but offers a very sweet vegetal tobacco note. The sweetness is like molasses. Hopefully the draw will open up a bit once lit.

Lit at 2:30pm

Right out of the gate, the Rafael Gonzalez offers a bit of burnt toast, black coffee, and sweet cream. There is no spice whatsoever, and the body is a delicate mild to low medium. Smoke production is awesome, and the draw, despite feeling a bit snug, is actually plenty productive, and works out fine. Maybe 3/4 of an inch in, a little tang (that Cuban "twang" I guess) works its way into the mix which balances the sweetness already present. The burn line isn't perfect, but it actually is performing better, from a technical standpoint, than the Behike I smoked a few days ago.

Over the course of about the last half inch, a milk chocolate sweetness (not bitter sweet, but milky sweet) has arrived, and now plays a major role alongside creamed coffee, burnt toast, and a slight herbal flavor. I'm not sure if this flavor combination is my favorite necessarily, but it has been nothing short of very interesting so far. Performance through to at least the halfway mark remains great, not a razor sharp burn, but good enough. The smoke production, and draw is now pretty much flawless, despite having been a bit tight at the start.

Getting into the final third, unfortunately there isn't much to say that hasn't already been said. Nothing has really changed after the addition of the milk chocolate flavor early in the second third. The herbal quality as well as the 'Cuban twang' have both intensified a bit, and the sweetness of the chocolate and cream have fallen off. The toasted bread flavor has pretty much remained consistent the entire way through. This may not have been the most complex, or in your face cigar in the HSA portfolio, but what it lacks there, it more than makes up for in interesting, unique character, and old school, rustic charm. This is a cigar that I would love to have in my regular rotation to mix it up from time to time, and I would love to see how it pairs with a few different spirits (especially heavily peated Islay Whisky, or a very floral Irish whiskey).

Let this one go out at 3:55pm, so it lasted for an hour and a half, which is about what I expect from a Corona Gorda that burns at the right pace. I really found this enjoyable. Thanks for readin'.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cohiba Behike BHK52

4.7 x 52

The Cohiba Behike... Ahh... the name rings true with prestige, scarcity, quality. Originally the Behike name was used for the Cohiba 40th anniversary cigar, a 7.6x52 mammoth, rolled entirely by one roller, packaged in gorgeous custom humidors of 40 cigars, with only 100 humidors total being made. These cigars fetch well over $1,000 US EACH today. Starting in 2010 however, Habanos released an entirely new line of regular (albeit annually limited) production cigars under the Cohiba marca, the Behike BHK series. Available in three sizes, the BHK line makes use of the Medio Tiempo leaf, a small pair of leaves that sometimes (and not always) appear at the very top of a tobacco plant, apparently imbuing the BHK with a unique flavor element. The Medio Tiempo is a component that had fallen out of use in Cuban cigar production, often sorted in with the rest of the ligero, or discarded entirely, because it is small, and only occasionally appears on a plant. The folks responsible for the BHK came upon the medio tiempo in old blend books, and decided to reinstate it, and thus the Behike BHK was born. The BHK 52, the smallest size, was named Cigar Aficionado's cigar of the year for 2010, and has received great praise (or hype?) since coming to market in early 2010. Having just celebrated a birthday, I figured it was as good an excuse as any to light one, and give it a really close, in depth look.

This particular example of the BHK 52 features a caramel brown wrapper, with a dusting of tooth, and almost no visible veins. The flag tailed cap is beautifully, evenly applied, and the general construction, as Cohiba should be, is pretty much flawless to look at. In the hand it is fully packed, but light, firm to squeeze, but not hard. The aroma from the foot is a gentle toasty tobacco, with just a slight hay and dirt to it. The draw offers just a slight snug resistance, and tastes of hay, cream, almonds, and a very slight honey. A quick bit about the band, which is absolutely gorgeous, in its intense contrasting black and white, with beautiful gold accents and lettering, as well as the holograms which not only serve as aesthetic embellishment, but also as a counterfeiting deterrent.

Lit at 2:40pm

Right away the flavors explode on the palate, though it is not an overly strong cigar, or full in body, the tastebuds are greeted with a dark caramel and sweet hay, followed by leather, and finally a little cinnamon spice, that lingers through a long, cedar and almond finish. This particular stick may be just a TOUCH under humidified, as the wrapper seems a little delicate. The burn ran a touch for the first few draws but within about 10 minutes everything has sorted itself out to an even line. The draw is great, and smoke production is... voluminous. The finish seems to have actually gotten spicier, more heat involved, just over the course of the first third. The ash is dark, mostly black, and dense. It has held already for over an inch, and not yet fallen.

Getting near the halfway mark the mouthfeel has gotten thicker, like a fresh, whipped cream. The flavor profile has also taken on a woodier, nuttier character than was present at the beginning. There is still a sweet cream and honey on the draw, but they quickly move into a slightly tangy cedar, and roasted almond, with a cinnamon and pepper on the finish that is maybe just a little rougher around the edges than I expected. That said, these are still not very old cigars (September 2010), and Cohiba as a rule seems to benefit from at least two or three years, so I would say this is actually performing wonderfully.

Moving to the final third, things sort of ramp up a bit. The flavor profile gets darker, with caramel getting a touch burnt, the cream and honey fading, a bit of leather becoming more apparent, and the almonds getting roasted a little darker. A little dark chocolate also joins the mix for good measure seemingly, which is a nice addition, and adds some certain complexity to things. The draw remains open but firm, and smoke production continues to be outstanding. The burn line throughout the cigar has wavered at times, getting crazy for a few draws before eventually evening back out. The ash continues to hold for pretty much an entire third of the cigar at a time. The finish has gotten significantly spicier, a little bit of hot pepper, balanced by cinnamon and/or nutmeg at times, really bringing everything together.

In the end the only thing I can think is that I wish I had more of these on hand, to really be able to see where they go in a year, or three, or five. The BHK 52 is smoking beautifully right now, with a touch of youth popping up here and there, but ultimately, it already has achieved a phenomenal balance of flavor, body, and feel, and in my opinion has the potential to only get better from here. I only pray that they continue to maintain this level of quality in the future. Ended at 4pm on the dot, for a total smoke time of one hour twenty minutes. I wish that maybe it had burned slower, but it is also a little cold out today, so my finger tips are glad it is a shorter vitola.