Padilla Reserva: Habano v. Maduro

Padilla Reserva

Every garden needs weeding, and perfectly healthy trees need a trim now and again. So it was with Padilla Cigars a few years ago, when Ernesto Padilla restructured his company. It seemed like the catalog companies were unearthing forgotten troves of Padillas on a monthly basis. They were good cigars selling at a nice price — but they went largely unappreciated (except by the bargain hunters) and were finally closed out. (Some are still in the process, so get ‘em while you can.)

Today the Padilla portfolio is lean and mean, with only a few top-tier blends in circulation. One of them is the Padilla Reserva, available in two wrappers: Habano and Maduro.  Both cigars are made for Padilla by Tabacalera Oliva in Esteli, Nicaragua. The Habano features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with binder and filler leaves from the Oliva farms in Condega and the Jalapa Valley. The Maduro swaps out the natural capa for an oily San Andres maduro.  Both variations were introduced in 2012 and are produced in four sizes:

  • 4 x 60 – Short Robusto
  • 5 3/4 x 50 – Toro
  • 6 x 54 – Torpedo
  • 5 3/4 x 60 – Double Toro

I smoked both Habano and Maduro cigars for this review, just to contrast and compare, both in the Toro size.

Padilla Reserva habano

Construction Notes

Both cigars were very well made, though they shared a common flaw: a tight draw. The draw on the Habano was firm, but productive, while the Maduro was on the uncomfortably tight side for the first two inches and then opened up a bit. Both are nice looking smokes. I generally don’t care about band design, but  the Padilla band exudes class.

The Ecuadorian leaf on the Habano is a gorgeous milk-chocolate brown, smooth with a slight sheen. The Maduro is matte black with little variation in color. It’s a little bit rustic with its lumpy round head, but that’s the nature of maduro. Both cigars burned very well, especially the Habano. “Razor sharp burn” is a cliche to which I occasionally fall prey, but in the case of the Habano it was no hyperbole.

Overall construction: Very good, with some slight hesitation about the draw.

Tasting Notes

The Habano Reserva focuses on cedar and cocoa, while the Maduro tastes a little richer — think pine rather than cedar, combined with the dark chocolate flavors typical of San Andres maduro. A tannic dryness is apparent in both, a slight astringency that wanes as the cigar burns.

The Habano is the more complex of the two — the aroma is sweet and spicy, assertive like a good perfume, but not overwhelming. The cedar gradually fades into the background as an earthy note takes over, accented by mint. The finish is lengthy and the aftertaste spicy.Padilla Reserva Maduro

The Maduro starts out with a heavy, almost resinous pine which is slightly harsh on the tongue. It mellows out though as the pine turns to cedar with occasional spikes of bittersweet baker’s chocolate. It bangs this drum all the way to the end, making it somewhat one-dimensional, though still tasty. The aftertaste is tannic, with some black pepper toward the band.

In both cases the smoke texture is medium in body, though the Maduro is a bit thicker, and both are about medium in strength.

Conclusion

The Padilla Reserva is a top tier cigar in both the Habano and the Maduro incarnations, but the Habano is the more complex and interesting smoke. The Maduro is a decent cigar, but I might be just as happy with a musty old St. Luis Rey Serie G for half the price if those are the flavors I’m after.  Both cigars ring in at around $8 USD for the toro size, but I would only be willing to pay that again for the Habano.

Bear in mind that my assessment is based on one cigar only in each wrapper, and was perhaps skewed by the Habano’s utterly perfect construction.

Padilla Reserva 3

 

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La Aurora Preferidos Ecuador No. 2

Preferidos Ecuador

Preferidos have been rolled and sold for a long time now. Since 1903, to be exact, with some production interruptions for things like world wars, revolutions, global depressions, and that sort of thing, and I expect that the blend is bit different now than it was in Teddy Roosevelt’s day. Currently there are six blends in this La Aurora line, including the newest Diamond Preferido made with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. But as usual I am lagging far behind the vanguard, taking the time to smell the pilones, so I’m going to take a look at the Ecuador blend which has been out for several years now. (An historical sidenote: the Aurora Preferidos Emerald was selected the 7th best cigar of the year in 2006 by Cigar Aficionado magazine.)

Preferidos in the wild are most frequently found living in shiny zeppelin-shaped tubes, and this one normally comes in a green one denominated “Emerald.”  This one was farm-raised, however, and caught on C-bid for less than half the standard retail price, so no tube. I must admit to one lingering concern about the identity of this cigar — the band reads ECUADOR, rather than EMERALD, as it does on the wild-caught tubed variety. Is the blend the same? I haven’t found any information to the contrary, but I can’t say for sure.

The wrapper is unsurprisingly from Ecuador, grown from Sumatra seed. The binder is Dominican, and the filler is a blend of Dominican, Brazilian, and Nicaraguan leaves. How they get all those into this little double-perfecto is a mystery to me, but La Aurora assigns only their most talented (and tourist-friendly) torcedors to the Preferidos line, so they get it done somehow.

Preferidos perfectos are produced in two sizes: this one, the classic 5 x 52 No. 2, and also a larger No. 1, at 6 x 58. A few are made in parejo vitolas as well, including robusto, lancero, and most recently a corona size.

Construction Notes

The Preferidos Ecuador No. 2 is a small double perfecto with two wrapped ends. The foot of the cigar is open, but some smokers like to trim a bit more off to create a slightly larger landing pad for the flame. The wrapper is slightly oily but otherwise unrefined: colorado maduro in color with the widely spaced veins typical of Ecuadorian wrapper leaf.  The roll is solid, and the draw is good. Without opening up the foot a little more it can be tough to get lit, but the patient puffer will find this is not necessary.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Preferidos Ecuador 2

Tasting Notes

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, as they say… and this little mutt has more bite than I expected. Both ends of the cigar are marked by loads of black pepper. The first part offers some leathery flavors and a hearty meatiness, but the best part  is a transitional sweet spot right in the middle of the bulb where the pepper gives way to dark chocolate on the palate and a spicy oak-and-vanilla aroma. Unfortunately the crest of this wave is only momentary and then it’s a quick descent back into black pepper, even more pronounced and one-dimensional on the back end.

Conclusion

Compared with other Preferido blends the Ecuadorian entry is a ruffian. Particularly compared to the Cameroon, or even the Corojo, which has potency on display but a little more sophistication. If only that mid-point highlight of chocolate, oak, and pepper could be extended throughout the cigar, I might be won over. Alas and alack, ’twas not to be. And with an MSRP of around $9 to 10 USD, ’twill not be again.

Preferidos Ecuador 3

 Final Score: 84

 

San Cristobal Revelation Legend

San Cristobal RevelationFor as long as I can remember, Ashton’s Virgin Sun Grown (VSG) line has been revered and sought after by cigar smokers. It is not always easy to find, and it commands a price dictated by its quality and high demand. The Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf that covers the VSG is the benchmark for Sun Grown taste, in my humble (or not-so-humble) opinion. The bright zing of this tobacco, grown by the Oliva family for Ashton, is what makes the VSG sing.

Now there is another voice to join that virgin choir — San Cristobal Revelation — which is made with a wrapper leaf from the same plant as the one used on the VSG. There is a slight difference, however. The VSG uses a stronger, spicier leaf from the top of the plant, whereas San Cristobal Revelation uses a milder mid-level viso leaf. But the similarities between the VSG and the SC Revelation end there. The VSG is more of a Fuente blend featuring Dominican tobacco,  while San Cristobal bears the mark of Pepin Garcia: the binder and filler leaves are Nicaraguan and the cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli.

San Cristobal Revelation was introduced in 2013 in five sizes:

  • Leviathan – 6 1/2 x 64
  • Legend – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Odyssey – 5 3/4 x  60
  • Mystic – 5 5/8 x 48
  • Prophet  – 5 x 54

Construction Notes

The Revelation Legend is a box pressed toro with a mottled chocolate brown wrapper and a well formed head. The cap is not as perfect as I’ve seen on other cigars out of this factory in recent years, but it’s attractive and certainly functional. The roll is solid and the draw is excellent. The cigar burns evenly, especially for a pressed stick, although it seems to burn more quickly than I had expected. There are no overheating issues and the cigar is rolled well, so this isn’t a significant issue.

Overall construction: Very good.

San Cristobal Revelation 2

Tasting Notes

The first inch of the Revelation Legend is peppery with the tannic dryness typical of most Nicaraguan blends these days. Pepin’s peppery hallmark has been appropriated (or perhaps the polite word is emulated) by so many other cigar makers that pepper-and-tannin has become the standard for Nicaraguan cigars. But the pepper here is not overwhelming, and in keeping with the medium-bodied tenor of the cigar it fades to allow cedar and a slightly spicy floral note come to the fore.

Sun grown flavors make their appearance in the mid-section of the cigar — a cinammon zing with chocolate and cedar in the background. Along with the spice there is a touch of sweetness enhanced by the cedary aroma.

The smoke concludes with a spicy char and a lengthy finish. This is a medium-bodied cigar, but it ends on a powerful, if somewhat muddied and less complex note.

Conclusion

Revelation is a fine addition to the San Cristobal line. It’s not as heavy as the original San Cristobal, but it’s spicier than the San Cristobal Elegancia. The tannins in the first inch might lighten up a bit over time, but these blends are made that way intentionally and aren’t intended to fade, so pucker up and enjoy.

So how does the Revelation stand up to the VSG? It makes a decent showing, but it is a far milder cigar. It’s like comparing Beethoven to Schumann. Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, but most cigar smokers will choose the pounding chords of the VSG over the gentle but soulful Revelation. That is no reflection on the quality of the Revelation; it’s just a matter of how much water you like in your whiskey. Sometimes a little splash is nice.

The Legend runs right around $8 USD.

San Cristobal Revelation 3Final Score: 90

Sindicato Corona Gorda

Sindicato

Sindicato is a clever name for a cigar — it has that underworld overtone,  that slightly sinister suggestion of menace that is so common in cigar marketing these days. But the name is a classic red herring. Sindicato has nothing to do with the mob — it’s the Spanish term for a labor union. Leave the gun. Take the chaveta.

Sindicato Cigars are made by a union of cigar industry veterans: retailers, manufacturers, lobbyists, the whole kit. Their motto is “Join the Union.” After smoking a couple of their flagship brand cigars, I believe I will.

Sindicato is a Nicaraguan puro blended by Arsenio Ramos. The cigar is made in the Casa Fernandez factory, so it should be no surprise that the wrapper is a shade-grown Corojo leaf grown on the Fernandez farms in Jalapa. Under the hood is a double binder from Esteli and a filler blend of leaves from Jalapa and Esteli. I will openly confess my weakness for Jalapa tobacco, and I’ve been a fan of Aganorsa leaf from the early days of Tabacalera Tropical, so I was stoked to fire this one up.

Sindicato was released on March 1, 2014, in six sizes:

  • Corona Gorda – 5 1/2 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 54
  • Churchill – 7 x 52
  • Magnum – 6 x 60

Sindicato 2

Construction Notes

The Corona Gorda is a square pressed cigar with a soft and supple milk-chocolate brown wrapper. The cigar feels light in the hand, but it’s packed well and burns slowly. The foot is unfinished (flagged) and the head sports a tight pigtail cap. The draw is excellent, producing a consistent volume of medium-bodied smoke, and the cigar burns evenly.

This is a handsome cigar, obviously rolled by experts.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Sindicato Corona Gorda is a medium strength cigar with notably aromatic complexity. The cigar starts out as smooth as its silky wrapper leaf and never gets harsh. Initial flavors are of roasted nuts with a dash of black pepper, but the aroma steals the show. It’s too complex to call it cedar –it smells to me like sandalwood. There is a sweetness to the scent that complements the flavors on the palate, a nutty brown sugar sweetness that grows earthier and more peppery as the cigar burns.

The finish is lengthy, and though it becomes fairly spicy in second half it stays smooth to the end.

Sindicato 3

Conclusion

Sindicato is an elegant and extraordinary smoke. I haven’t seen anyone do a flavor map for this cigar yet, but if I made one it would cover the whole spectrum. Everything from wood to pepper to floral scents — it pretty much made my palate light up like a Christmas tree. It’s smooth and sweet, very easy to smoke, and never boring. It’s one of the best new cigars I’ve tried in a long time.

Just one catch though, and you knew this was coming. You don’t get to join the Union without paying your dues. While the price is not exactly prohibitive, it is still considerable. The Corona Gorda runs around $10 USD, with larger sizes commanding commensurately larger fees. And you won’t find these in the discount aisle anytime soon, or ever, so save up your shekels. It’s a worthy investment.

Final Score: 94

 

Epicurean Gonzo Santeria

Epicurean Santeria

Most of what I know about Santeria I learned from the movies, which I admit is not the most accurate source of cultural information. Or any information, for that matter. Santeria is in fact a religion that combines elements of several faiths — Yoruba from Western Africa, Roman Catholicism, and Native Caribbean rituals and beliefs. The geographic center of the religion is acknowledged to be in Cuba, so it’s natural that a cigar take its name from this esoteric cult faith. Well, maybe not natural. Supernatural?

Santeria is also the second blend in the Gonzo line from Epicurean Cigars. (A Gonzo line is sort of like a Conga line, but crazier.)  This blend features a double shot of Mexican San Andres — an almost flawless maduro wrapper over another San Andres leaf serving as binder — which is then paired with another binder from Jalapa, and these hold in place a blend of 2009 Jalapa and Condega leaves. It’s a bewitching brew, and I wasn’t surprised to find that it smokes like one too.

Gonzo Santeria is a very limited production with only 150 50-count boxes made per size. And those sizes are:

  • Ruca – 5 x 42
  • Heina – 6 x 52
  • Padrino – 6 x 60

Epicurean Santeria 2

Construction Notes

Like the AG Azul, the Gonzo Santeria is remarkably well made. (The one I smoked for the review was the toro-sized Heina.) The head and shoulders of the cigar are about as clean and perfect as I’ve seen. The cap is tightly wound and finished with a pigtail that sits like a beanie on the top of the stick. The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro, a little bit drier than the Habano wrapper on the AG, but still quite attractive. The cigar has a slight box press. It burns slowly and evenly.

Overall construction: Outstanding.

Tasting Notes

Based on the appellation of the cigar I was expecting a feistier smoke. I figured if the Gonzo didn’t get me then the Santeria would, so I was a little surprised by the smooth medium-bodied opening. The flavor is is earthy to start — minerals and black powder — so there seems to be a family resemblance to the AG Azul. There are a few muted spicy notes, but it’s not at all what I was expecting. There is no harshness and no bite.

But as the old Monty Python sketch advises: wait for it.  A third to half-way into the cigar the pepper kicks in, and so does the Vitamin N. The aroma turns from earth to leather. The cigar gathers strength and the fiesta begins. Hope you remembered the hooch.

Finally there is the cocoa or chocolate, or whatever it is, that I was expecting from the San Andres wrapper and binder combo. At this point it hardly matters because I’m thoroughly satisfied anyway.

Epicurean Santeria 3

Conclusion

Another excellent cigar from Epicurean. As with the AG Azul, I can’t give this cigar a rating because I only smoked a single representative of the blend, but based on the outstanding construction quality I would be shocked if the cigar isn’t consistent across the board. Looks like there’s another one I’ll be going out of my way to find.

 

 

Epicurean AG Azul

Epicurean Azul

Epicurean Cigars are small batch boutique cigars blended by Steven Ysidron, a veteran with Cuban roots who began his career with the Fuente family and Savinelli pipes and cigars in Italy and the Dominican Republic. In the late 1990’s Ysidron lit out on his own and began producing cigars in Nicaragua. All Epicurean cigars are aged for four years after rolling — this is pretty remarkable, given the way that most manufacturers observe the shortest rest time necessary in order to maximize profits. It’s always admirable when a cigar company, especially a small company, refuses to sacrifice quality for sales volume.

The initials in “AG Azul” are those of Ysidron’s grandfather, Armando Gutierrez. Since it is the time of year to honor fathers with neckties and fine cigars, I’ll start with this one. (Stay tuned for a review of Epicurean’s Gonzo Santeria.)  These are small batch cigars, so the composition of the blend can be expected to change. This blend is the 2008 version (rather than the 2007), which utilizes a sun grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Honduran binder, and filler leaf from Jalapa and Esteli. Five sizes are in production:

  • Trabajador – 5 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Petite Corona – 5.5 x 48
  • Justus – 6 x 60

Epicurean Azul 2

Construction Notes

This is a beauty of a cigar before it’s even out of the cellophane. The black and silver band is tasteful, and I always approve of a cedar sleeve. The wrapper is a slightly oily colorado maduro, and the cigar terminates in a nicely rounded head with a carefully crafted cap. The roll is solid, the draw is excellent, and it burns evenly. From outward appearances alone, this cigar is obviously the product of an experienced torcedor.

Overall construction: Outstanding

Tasting Notes

The AG Azul 2008 Toro starts up a bit tannic on the tip of the tongue. Soon the aromas of leather and wood dominate. As the smoke progresses, the aroma takes on more cedar punctuated periodically by an earthy sulfuric note, like black powder. The flavor is Cubanesque, but with a Nicaraguan accent. Both the body and the strength of the cigar are around medium, though the last stage of the smoke is stronger. It finishes up with black pepper and a pleasantly earthy aftertaste.

Epicurean Azul 3

Conclusion

A really excellent cigar. I’m unable to rate the AG Azul 2008 because I only smoked a single sample, but if the cigar is consistent from stick to stick this is going to be in the 90+ category  easily. At around $9 USD it’s a special occasion smoke for me, but very few cigars are made this well and smoke so smoothly. If you’re looking for a medium-bodied cigar with an earthy Cubanesque flavor profile, you can’t go wrong here. If you can’t find them at your B&M (an unlikely proposition for most) try the Cigar Federation Store.

Note: A review of Epicurean’s Gonzo Santeria is up next. I had intended to review both the AG Azul and Santeria in one post, but I can only cram so much gushing into a given space.

 

 

 

Rogue by East India Trading Co./Gurkha

Rogue

It is becoming de rigeur for cigar companies to have at least one ligero-heavy shillelagh in their portfolio. It should be big, heavy, and the packaging imagery should look like something out of Game of Thrones: some medieval-looking daggers, Renaissance Faire heraldry, gothic lettering, and a band emblazoned with a cranium of one sort or another. It should also have a name like Ogre or Sarcophagus.

Released under the East India Trading Company, Rogue is one of Gurkha’s more potent blends. And wouldn’t you know, on the band there’s a gleaming skull. How about that?

The wrapper is a dark Ecuadorian Habano leaf, the binder is from Ecuador as well (which is sort of unusual), but the core of the cigar is where the beast lurks — a blend of ligero from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the DR. Let’s get ready to rrrrrrrrrumble!

Five sizes are in production:

  • 5.5 x 46 – Rascal
  • 5 x 52 – Tyrant
  • 6 x 54 – Ruthless
  • 6 x 60 – Bamboozle
  • 6 x 66 – Armageddon

Construction Notes

The folks at Gurkha must have a good sense of humor because they sent me a sample of the Rogue in the Armageddon size — 6 x 66. Rogue footTo make matters even more extreme, the cigar is square pressed. This is a gobstobber of a smoke, and a good one to punch, because a standard sized cigar cutter is just barely up to the task. The cap is a little questionable anyway.

The wrapper is dark maduro in color — habano oscuro seems to be very popular these days — and is fairly thin. The cigar cuts well, and takes a punch even better, but the draw is extremely airy. This may be by design, due to the high ligero content. The foot of the cigar is unfinished, which might be why it takes a light so easily.  It burns well and produces an adequate volume of smoke, but the loose draw is a little off-putting. Perhaps it takes some getting used to.

Overall construction: Good.

Rogue 2

Tasting Notes

The Armageddon does not begin with the pealing of trumpets or the cataclysm of brimstone and black pepper that I was expecting. It’s much smoother than the end of the world,  so perhaps T.S. Eliot was right when he said the world ends “not with a bang, but a whimper.” Maybe it ends with a pleasant aroma of coffee and roasted nuts.

The body of this Rogue is also surprisingly light. As with the Cain Daytona, the high ligero content of the cigar lends it a wispy feel on the palate without sacrificing any power. Despite its lack of “mouth feel” the cigar is still quite strong. It’s also pretty tasty. There is enough pepper in the first inch to keep the ligero-heads happy, but it’s not out of balance. At the mid-point earth and minerals form the base flavor of the cigar.

The cigar grows in strength and the aftertaste becomes overwhelmingly earthy by the time the ash meets the first band. By this time I’ve had enough, to be honest, but those with a higher nicotine tolerance and a penchant for char might continue on.

Conclusion

The Rogue Armageddon is a monster smoke, but it is not as evil as it appears. It’s smoother and more complex than I expected; on the other hand, the loose draw was an issue. At around $10 USD per stick, it’s not an economy cigar, but I might test drive one of the smaller sizes at a proportionally lower price point. If the Rascal has the same flavor as the Armageddon in a smaller package, it could be a killer corona.

Rogue 3

 Final Score: 88