Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Pyramid

Julius Caeser

Julius Caesar may have crossed the Rubicon, but Julius Caeser crossed the Atlantic Ocean. That’s Julius Caeser Newman, better known as J.C. Newman, the founder of the oldest family-owned cigar company in America. After emigrating from Austria-Hungary in the late nineteenth century, he began his illustrious career in that most prestigious of cities: Cleveland, Ohio, and in the most auspicious of locations — his barn. From those humble circumstances one of the world’s best known cigar brands would emerge: Dr. Nickols 5 Cent cigar. Not to mention Student Prince.

The cigar business is a transitory one. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the product, which when properly used is set alight and reduced to ashes. Looking at my “Cigar Diary” from a decade ago it is hard to find any brand still in existence, and most of the companies who made those cigars are history as well. But the Newman family has persevered in the business for over a hundred years, and that is no mean feat.

So it seems perfectly reasonable that one of the Newman family’s most luxurious cigars should honor their patriarch, Julius Caeser. (The spelling of “Caeser” is the work of Ellis Island officials, if I understand correctly.) The blend information is somewhat veiled — the wrapper is an Ecuadorian Havana-seed leaf (from the Oliva Tobacco Co, perhaps?) The binder is Dominican, and the filler is “Central American.” I’m guessing it’s probably not Belizean, but your guess is as good as mine. (Better, probably.)

The Diamond Crown Julius Caeser is made in four sizes, all of which have a 52 ring gauge:

  • 4 3/4 x 52 – Robusto
  • 6 x 52 – Toro
  • 7 1/4 x 52 – Churchill
  • 6 1/2 x 52 – Pyramid

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Construction Notes

As a super premium cigar from the Tabacalera  A. Fuente factory, the Julius Caeser can be expected to both look and perform in an exemplary manner, and the cigar does not fail on either front. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper isn’t as creamy or seamless as Ecuadorian Connecticut, but with its perfectly rolled head and slight box press it is certainly presentable.  The only minor flaw is some stray mucilage on the wrapper. At around $18 a cigar, this should not be there.

The pyramid arrives with a slight box press. The roll has some give to it, but it takes a light quite readily and burns evenly. The draw is just right, and if you’re after long ashes, you’ll find this one hard to beat.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Julius Caeser is a medium-bodied cigar that forgoes strength for complexity.  The aroma is complex from the start — it’s woody with a touch of mint, almost approximating Cameroon, but softer. The flavor on the palate is earthy with an aftertaste of roasted nuts, and just a tingle of spice on the tongue. 

As the ash grows the cigar adds a dose of coffee bean, and at the mid-point gets almost musky. The aroma gradually gets sweeter, losing the minty note and replacing it with maple syrup and a mildly floral scent. The cigar loses some of its nuance in the final stage, but it stays cool to the end and never gets harsh or ashy. With its gentle demeanor and sophisticated aroma, this pyramid is extremely easy to smoke.

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Conclusion 

The Julius Caeser pyramid is similar in many ways to the Diamond Crown Maximus pyramid. It shares its fine construction qualities, its sophistication and, unfortunately, its price tag.  The robusto can be picked up for the bargain basement price of $11 USD, and you can add a couple bucks for each larger size. I almost put this one back when I found out it would set me back 18 bucks, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s a luxury to enjoy on special occasions… like breakfast. If you’re Carlos Slim. 

 

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Ashton ESG 22 Year Salute

Ashton’s Estate Sun Grown (ESG) was released in 2005 to salute “20 consecutive years of increased sales and overall growth.”  That sounds a little like the theme of the Dunder Mifflin Christmas party, and the initial reviews of the ESG were nearly as embarrassing. The release of the cigar was highly anticipated for a number of reasons: it’s an Ashton product blended by Carlos Fuente, Jr., and it carries a super-premium price which inflated expectations accordingly. At around $20-25 USD per stick, the ESG could well be expected to take a place alongside Fuente’s Opus X and Diamond Crown’s Maximus cigars. But initial reviews were not kind, and at that price I decided I would give the brand some time to fix what went wrong or to let the aging process repair the flaws of youth.

After some initial delays, the first ESG was released in a churchill format sometime in 2006. The plan was to release an additional size each year after 2005 until Ashton’s 25th anniversary in 2010. The blend components are somewhat mysterious. The wrapper is a leaf grown especially for the ESG on the Chateau de la Fuente farm in the Dominican Republic, and that is all ye know and all ye need know. The origin and type of the binder and filler leaves are not public information.

The production sizes appear to have halted at four rather than the scheduled five, and they are as follows:

20 Year Salute — 6.75 x 49
21 Year Salute — 5.25 x 52
22 Year Salute — 6 x 52  (torpedo)
23 Year Salute — 6.25 x 52

Construction Notes

The 22-Year Salute is a debonair torpedo with a leathery and slightly oily exterior. A few fine veins traverse the reddish wrapper. The head of the cigar terminates in a tightly wrapped point, and the stick appears to be softly box pressed. The draw is excellent, but the burn is a little uneven and the ash flakes at times. I had to apply a corrective flame to this ESG once or twice, but aside from that the construction is what you’d expect from an Ashton super-premium.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The ESG torpedo opens with a mild dose of black pepper and some tartness on the palate. The pepper is not overbearing, but it dominates the first inch of the stick. Despite the spice, the smoke texture is noticeably creamy. Within a few puffs the magic of this cigar becomes apparent: the aroma is extremely complex and totally unique. There are notes of both cedar and flowers on the nose, but neither is overt. The room scent is very nice.

The mid section of the cigar is earthier, with some lightly roasted coffee flavors. The aroma continues to be sweet and slightly floral, but this is accompanied by a dry tannic aftertaste that I don’t care for. The spice diminishes while the cigar gathers strength.

The final section remains smooth and creamy, and the aroma is nothing short of amazing. There are notes of lavender or violet, but it isn’t perfumey at all. It’s floral, but balanced. On the other hand, the tannic aftertaste persists. I’m completely entranced by the scent of this cigar, but after an hour my mouth is parched.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see why the Ashton ESG is in the super-premium category: the Chateau de la Fuente wrapper is extremely subtle and complex. Even though it burns a little erratically, it’s obviously the centerpiece of the cigar. But I can also see why the early reviews were less than laudatory. The cigar is quite dry, and the aftertaste is very tart. Perhaps this could be countered by the right drink; water didn’t work any wonders for me, and I didn’t want to spoil the scent of the smoke with anything stronger. Maybe the ESG is just looking for the right companion.

But at $23 USD I’m a little disappointed. The high price point held me to a single cigar for this review, so it’s possible another test drive would change my mind; another occasion, another drink, another cigar. But at this price, on my budget, one chance is all it will get.

Final Score: 85

A. Fuente Rosado Sun Grown Magnum R52

The original Arturo Fuente Sun Grown line is based on the familiar Gran Reserva blend, but with a Sumatra seed wrapper grown in Ecuador by the Oliva Tobacco Company. It’s a classic smoke, easily identified by the black band at the foot. It’s probably my favorite of the mainstream Fuente cigars, and I always try to have a few around.

When the original Sun Grown line was created, the wrappers intended for the blend were put aside in favor of a higher priming leaf. That cache of rejected wrapper leaf has been lying around for eight to ten years now, and it is now being put to use in the Rosado Magnum line. The lower priming leaf results in a flavor that is a little more mellow, less concentrated, and creamier than the standard Sun Grown wrapper.

The Sun Grown Rosado is distinguished from the original Sun Grown line by the white border at the bottom of the band (the original has a black border, and not so much gold.) It looks a little like the Añejo band.

Carlos Fuente Jr. told  Cigar Aficionado that “he intended to go old school with this blend, moving away from the power trend that he helped create.” (A trend that arguably began with the Opus X.) “They have a sweet, long finish,” Fuente said. “It’s very flavorful, very complex — it’s my father’s idea of what a good cigar should be.”

The Rosado Sun Grown series was launched in December 2009 in three chunky sizes (hence the Magnum appellation) named for their ring gauge size. Since their premiere other sizes have been planned, some of which have been released. For now the lineup appears to be:

  • R-52 – 5 x 52 (robusto)
  • R-54 – 6 1/4 x 54 (toro)
  • R-56 – 5 5/8 x 56 (gordo)
  • R-58 – 5 1/4 x 58 (torpedo)

Construction Notes

As expected, the highlight of the Sun Grown Rosado R52 is its gorgeous colorado maduro wrapper. I’m not sure how “rosado” differs from colorado, but this cover leaf is a dark natural shade with a touch of red. If that’s rosado, well then this is rosado. The leaf has some veining, but it’s smooth, consistent in coloration, and it shines.

The head is nearly flat and the stick appears to have a slight box press. The cap shears neatly and the draw is spot on. It burns evenly and slowly, building a solid ash that is very light gray to white in color.

Nearly perfect construction.

Tasting Notes

This robusto opens sweetly, with mildly spicy scents of cedar. The base flavor is woody and slightly nutty. The smoke is medium to full in texture, but fairly mild in strength. After an inch or so the cigar serves up an elusive taste of honey or graham cracker. I thought it was caramel at first, but it’s not quite that sweet.

The second half of the R52 is muskier. The sweetness is still present in the aroma, but the flavors get a little earthier and pick up some spice at the end. It’s a gentle transition — the flavors remain balanced even though they gradually darken. There is virtually no aftertaste at the beginning of the stick, but by the end the smoke leaves a nice earthy char and some saltiness.

Conclusion

The Fuente Rosado Sun Grown robusto is a nice find for fans of medium-bodied cigars. The flavors are interesting and well developed, though they are admittedly muted when compared to full bodied classics like Fuente’s Opus and Añejo blends. But this cigar serves a different purpose, I think.

The R-52 robusto runs around $6 USD per stick, which is pretty decent for the quality of the cigar. The superb construction qualities alone might be worth this price. As long as you’re not a dedicated ligero lover who demands power from everything in your humidor, this is a smooth smoke worth checking out.

Final Score: 90

Angelenos by Prometheus

When Zeus hid fire from mortals to punish them for a cruel trick they had played on him, Prometheus came to the rescue with a flaming fennel-stalk. The modern Prometheus would probably choose something a little more reliable, like a flint ignition lighter from the company bearing his name. (I think Prometheus would prefer flint ignition to electronic piezo. He’s been bound to a rock for eternity and I expect his taste is rather conservative.)

But as we all know, Prometheus has branched out — not only has he brought us fire, but he has become a purveyor of fine cigars too. It all began in 2004 with the appropriately named God of Fire, a limited edition cigar in two styles, one blended by Carlos and the other by Carlito Fuente.

In 2010 Prometheus added another blend, this time to celebrate the city of Los Angeles, California. The release of Angelenos was accompanied by the expected selection of Angelenos-branded accoutrement: a carbon-fiber humidor ($1600), bone china ashtray ($69.95), cutters, cases, and of course, lighters. (All very classy items, by the way.) But having only recently graduated from a rusty coffee can to a proper ashtray, the cigar is what primarily interests me.

Like the God of Fire line, Angelenos are manufactured by Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. The data on the blend is a bit shrouded, which is typical for Fuente, but we have been graced with the following: the wrapper is from Ecuador (Connecticut seed is my guess) and the binder and filler are Dominican. Five sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 1/4 x 50
  • Double Robusto – 5 3/4 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Lonsdale – 6 1/4 x 44
  • Gran Toro – 6 1/2 x 54

Construction Notes

The Angelenos Gran Toro is a fine looking cigar with a smooth claro shade wrapper and a flat head. The cap looks a bit mashed at the crown, but it cuts cleanly and resolves any aesthetic objections by dropping quietly into the ashtray.  The roll is solid and the cigar burns beautifully. My only concern is that the wrapper leaf is extremely delicate. I live in the desert, so I battle humidity issues on a daily basis, but even so it seems that there is frequently a trade-off involved with super-premium wrapper leaf: the complexity and sophistication of the leaf is often accompanied by extreme fragility. This one cracked almost as soon as I touched flame to foot, but at least it didn’t fall apart.

Overall construction: Good.

Tasting Notes

The elegance of the wrapper and the band are a good indication of the character of this cigar. The smoke is mild but flavorful and the aroma is sophisticated. Sweet spices on the nose combine with a touch of salt and a dry tannic flavor to produce a balanced and well-rounded taste.

The smoke texture (what I call body) is medium to full — which complements the mild flavor very nicely. Slightly green woody flavors come to the fore in the mid-section, accented by minerals and nuts.

The aroma is the highlight of this cigar. It continues to be sweet throughout the duration of the cigar, but it’s increasingly floral as time goes by.

Conclusion

The Angelenos Gran Toro is a fine example of how a mild cigar can be subtle and sophisticated yet still very substantial.

This cigar reminded me of Ashton’s Vintage Cabinet line, but it has a little more character. It also carries an Ashton-like price tag — around 11 USD per stick. If your standards are just a bit lower you could be almost as satisfied with an Oliva Connecticut Reserve and walk away five bucks in the black, but if you have the scratch and love the sophistication of a fine wrapper leaf, Angelenos may be calling your name.

Final Score: 88

Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story

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Brought to you by our friends at Cigars Direct.

While Ernest Hemingway certainly had a connection to the cigar Shangri-La that is Cuba, he wasn’t known to be a huge fan of the cigar. Apart from his literary oeuvre that would earn him a Nobel Prize, he was known more for his prodigious appetite for alcohol than for smoking cigars. But for cigar fanatics the name “Hemingway” brings to mind something other than the writer — the Fuente made cigar named in his honor. The figurado shaped cigar with a tapered head and perfecto foot is known to most as the “Hemingway” style.

But this shape did not originate with the Arturo Fuente Hemingway series – according to Carlos Fuente, Jr., this shape is a classic Cuban perfecto that was popular from the 1920′s through the 50′s. Its popularity declined thereafter, and most of the Cuban masters who knew how to make this difficult figurado either retired or passed away. But then around 1980, Carlos Fuente Sr. recovered the “Hemingway” molds his father had stored in their Ybor City factory and recreated these cuban perfectos.

At first the Fuentes made these new perfectos exclusively for their own enjoyment. But in 1983 they introduced the first Hemingway to the market:  the 6 x 47 Signature. Five years later came the Classic and the Masterpiece,  which in a 1997 interview Carlos Jr. said was one of the rarest and most challenging cigars they make:

the Hemingway Masterpiece is without question one of the rarest sizes of all Arturo Fuente cigars. Since the day it was first introduced, it has been blended and rolled by the same two brothers, who work together to make this unusual and challenging shape (perfecto, 9 1/4 by 52). The Cameroon wrapper for the Masterpiece is so difficult to obtain that we literally have to go through bales until we are able to select a few precious leaves that have both the size and the quality to be used on a Hemingway cigar. When the wrapper is not available, the brothers make Hemingway Classics. In a good year, we consider ourselves lucky if we’re able to produce as many as 10,000 Masterpieces.

The Short Story was created some time after that because it was “getting difficult to smoke in certain areas.” Yes, it was, and things have not improved since then. And even though this unusual looking figurado is one of the most difficult shapes for a roller to make, it was thereafter widely copied and imitated by other cigar manufacturers.

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The wrappers used for natural  Hemingway cigars are African Cameroon; the maduros are much more rare but are really exquisite. The Dominican filler and binder are together simply known as “the Hemingway blend.”

Three of the figurados in the Hemingway series — the Work of Art, Best Seller, and Short Story – have pyramidal cylinders, while the original Signature, Classic and Masterpiece are modified parejos. The Short Story is the smallest of the lot, measuring only four inches long with a ring gauge of 49 at its widest point, narrowing to 46. It’s an exotic looking cigar.

Construction Notes

The Cameroon wrapper on this cigar looks a little drab at first, but I’ve noticed that it changes quite a bit once lit — this wrapper must be really sensitive to heat. A minute or two after lighting oils come to the surface and the wrapper shines.

The color is consistent and there is the occasional glue smear.  The roll is firm and regular, and the draw is just right. Occasionally a cigar with this type of foot will offer resistance until the burn reaches the main body of the stick, but I haven’t encountered this problem with the Short Story.

The perfecto “nipple” makes this an extremely easy cigar to light. One match is usually all it takes. The burn can be a little uneven until the cinder has reached the main shank of the cigar, but from that point it evens out.  The ash is firm — with any luck you won’t need to ash this cigar but once, if at all.

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Tasting Notes

The Short Story is surprisingly complex for such a small cigar. It opens up with a strong sweet cedar flavor and a touch of mint, the hallmark of Cameroon wrapper. The smoke is medium to full in texture with a spicy tang.

After a few more puffs the flavor gets earthier and there is a touch of black pepper on the tongue. This is a medium bodied cigar in terms of both smoke density and power, but it has a lot of character. The aroma is a bit piney — sweet and spicy.

The finish grows a little bit toward the end, the aroma weakens somewhat, and the flavors muddy slightly. And then it’s done. That’s the only problem with this cigar — it’s over way too soon. But that’s the power of the short story, literally. I’ve always preferred “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” to The Sun Also Rises — the economy required seems to concentrate and magnify the power of Hemingway’s style. You could say the same thing of Fuente’s Short Story.

Conclusion

So this is a really wonderful little cigar. Even if you’ve smoked the larger sizes, I’d urge everyone to try the Short Story as well. I can’t think of a better 20 -30 minute smoke in its class.

Be sure to check Cigars Direct for availability and competitive pricing on Hemingways and other rare Fuente cigars.

Final Score: 91

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~cigarfan

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Vertical Review Pt. 2

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While sitting on the patio with the Don Carlos robusto last night I had a flashback to the first Don Carlos I ever smoked. It was about four or five years ago, and I was really looking forward to it as a “super-premium” special occasion kind of cigar. Prepared for a glorious experience I blazed it up on a star-lit summer night and sat back, waiting to be enthralled.

It didn’t happen. I thought it was a fine Cameroon style cigar, but not leagues beyond the Hemingway, or even the Chateau Fuente. The additional expense just didn’t translate into additional enjoyment that night, probably because my expectations were too high. I couldn’t complain, because it was an excellent cigar, but still I felt let down.

Now, several years later,  my approach is a little different. I’ve read the reviews, sucked up the hype, smoked the cigars, and snatched the pebble from the torcedor’s hand.

Most importantly, I’ve learned not to let price interfere with my expectation or cloud my judgment of a cigar. It’s not that price doesn’t matter — of course it does, especially in these uncertain economic times — but it doesn’t bear a direct relationship to the quality of a cigar. If you don’t believe me, get yourself a $30 Stradivarius and let ‘er rip.

So forget that the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos costs ten or twelve bucks a stick.

For the story of the cigar and biographical info on the Fuente enterprise, click here: Lucky7′s review of the double robusto. The long and short of it is that this is a special blend created by Carlos Fuente Sr. that incorporates Dominican tobaccos from the Fuente farms, capped by an exquisite Cameroon wrapper.

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Double Robusto

At 5.75 x 52, the Don Carlos Double Robusto is a slightly longer, slightly fatter version of the standard Robusto. It doesn’t differ in appearance from others in the line — a sandy textured Cameroon wrapper surrounding a well rolled parejo, topped off with the customary Don Carlos glue smears.

It starts off a little bland, but after a half inch or so this cigar really warms up and gets to work with a soft cedary aroma and a toasty demeanor. Core flavors are nuts and cedar and the finish is dry. The sweet spice from the Cameroon wrapper contributes a minty element that at times tastes almost like anise.

By the mid-point of the cigar the smoke is creamy and has built up a more solidly woody flavor — more like oak than cedar, complemented by a cherry vanilla accent. The sweet spice from the wrapper continues, creating a complex brew of tastes and aromas.

While the Don Carlos is by no means a bruiser like Fuente’s Opus X cigars, the final section is fairly serious, kicking in a heavier dose of leather with black pepper. The sweetness begins to fade and the woody flavors become increasingly earthy. The finish grows longer and starts to muddy a bit near the band.

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Robusto

Despite the fact that the 5 x 50 robusto is only a bit smaller than the Double Robusto, it seems to have a very different personality. The flavors are generally the same, but the robusto is a little feistier than the double.

It picks up where the double robusto leaves off — with a spoonful of black pepper dropped on the back of the palate. The aroma is a little less subtle as well; it’s not quite as soft but is still minty in nature, like crushed eucalyptus leaves. Not quite that strong, but more potent than most Cameroon wrappers.

Unfortunately this particular cigar decided to challenge me with some construction issues after an inch or so. When the burn went sideways almost immediately I thought that I hadn’t lit it correctly. A good blast from the torch and a stern reprimand and I figured we’d be back on track. But no.

After an inch or so I noticed that the stick seemed to be burning hot, and the flavor was getting a little ashy. I looked at the cinder and noticed that the wrapper was no longer burning, while the filler smoldered on. Despite my best efforts to rehabilitate this delinquent it appeared that my robusto was headed for reform school.

There’s only one way to deal with a tunnel if you hope to salvage an errant stick: shut it down. I put the cigar in the ashtray and let it extinguish itself. Ten or fifteen minutes later I clipped the cigar about a quarter inch below the ash line. I expected to find a hole, but the filler looked like it was solid and just slightly charred, so I relit it, hoping for the best. The first few puffs were positively acrid but after a minute or two the flavors began to clean up and become recognizable. The wrapper was burning in synch. Things were looking up.

The remainder of my now half-robusto was actually pretty decent, if short lived. Oak barrel smooth with a smattering of black pepper. The sweet spicy aroma was the highlight of this sad amputee as it turned prematurely dirty tasting close to the band, probably due to the rough treatment it received.

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Conclusion

Of the five vitolas in this line that I was able to sample thanks to Cigarsdirect.com, I have to award the laurels to the Double Robusto. The Number 3 was very good as well, and the others were fine cigars too. Even the robusto had its moments, despite what I think was a rare construction defect.

All told, this is one of the great Cameroon cigars, but is it worth the price? Yes, I think so, if your cigar budget can handle it.

As I think back to my initial impression of the Don Carlos robusto, lo these many years ago, I think my expectations were indeed a little too high. Sometimes a Don Carlos is just a Don Carlos, and for Cameroon lovers, it’s a must try.

Final Scores

Don Carlos Double Robusto: 91

Don Carlos Robusto: Incomplete

~ cigarfan

With thanks to Cigars Direct

Diamond Crown MAXIMUS Double Belicoso

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I’ve smoked more than a few MAXIMUS pyramids over the years but in this case more than a few is not nearly enough. When I first reviewed the Pyramid No. 3 in 2006 I was very much impressed, and my opinion since then has only grown. One of the keys to this cigar, as with many Newman-Fuente cigars, is the Oliva grown wrapper. I don’t know what they’re doing on the El Bajo farm in Ecuador, but I hope they never stop.

ecuadEcuador is a country of extremes — from the lush heights of the Andean volcano region down to the coast, the “cloud forest” and unique watershed creates a very fertile environment for growing shade tobacco.  The El Bajo farm is located in the Rio Macul river valley, part of the Guayas river basin system that branches west from the mountains and empties into the Pacific.

This Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper leaf is dark and moderately oily, sungrown under cloud cover. Since this is a Fuente product the binder and filler are both Dominican, and the construction is superb. The band is a work of art in itself.

guayamapThe Double Belicoso is a relatively recent addition to the MAXIMUS line — introduced at the 2007 RTDA, it adds about half an inch in length and a few ticks on the ring gauge to the No. 3 pyramid shape. For whatever reason both the Pyramid and the Double Belicoso seem more complex to me than the robusto, though I must admit that I haven’t smoked them side by side.  (I’m just waiting for the perfect moment to conduct that experiment, with a tumbler of Lagavulin 21 after dinner at Picasso.)

The wrap on the Double Belicoso is aesthetically flawless and the draw is perfect. After an easy light it begins to burn with a waver here and there, but for the most part it is even and needs no correction. The ash is solid. Typical premium Fuente construction.

The first couple of inches are dominated by a smooth coffee flavor and a cedary aroma rife with mild spices. The smoke is creamy and very smooth. The smoke texture is full in body but not overly powerful. Relaxing is what I’d call it, like the perfect cup of rich crema-topped coffee.

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The next section switches gears a little and becomes a little more leathery while retaining the same spicy aroma. There is a touch of sweetness on the palate. I’m still picking up some woody notes as well. The overall effect is complex but very well balanced.

The last section gets a little heavier as the complexity gives way to darker, more peppery spices and the woody notes become more oaky than cedary. The aroma has flattened out a little at this point, the olfactory details a bit overwhelmed by the crescendo on the palate. Finally, well into the band area, the flavors start to muddy and I bid my MAXIMUS a fond farewell.

The complexity of this cigar is only matched by its smooth easy smoking nature. Some folks will find the DC MAXIMUS to be a little on the light side, but I think everyone can appreciate the delicacy it brings to the table. It’s truly one to be experienced.

But here’s the rub: these beauties run around 15 USD a pop. If I could afford to smoke these everyday I would be spoiled for all other cigars, and you’d hear no complaints about diversity being the spice of life. This smoke has just about everything I’m looking for in a cigar: flavor, complexity, smoothness, and a moderate nicotine payload.

So there’s no need to read between the lines. The DC MAX Double Beli is one of the treasures of my humidor, and it’s certainly one of the best I’ve smoked this year.

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Fuente Don Carlos Vertical Review (Pt. 1)

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Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Presidente

The Don Carlos line is one of Arturo Fuente’s “super-premium” brands, a step up from the Hemingway Series, but not quite as exalted as the Opus X. The highlight of the blend is an aged Cameroon wrapper, underneath which is a Dominican blend from the Fuente farms.

I’ve always liked this blend, but I don’t smoke it much because of the price (in the $10 -12 range).  The robusto has always been my goto Don Carlos, when my wallet has been sufficiently lined, but our friends at CigarsDirect.com were kind enough to send a sampler pack my way so I could try a few of the sizes I’ve never smoked.

Last year Lucky7 posted what I think is the definitive Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Double Robusto review –check it out for more information about the blend and the story behind it. I’m not going to try to top that review but I’m going to try my hand at a few of the other sizes in a vertical review to see how they compare with each other. First up, the No. 3 corona versus the toro-sized Presidente.

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3

The No. 3 is a typical corona: 44 x 5.5 inches long. The wrapper is attractive but marred by a mucilaginous smear, a strangely common defect in the Don Carlos line. The corona cuts cleanly and has a satisfyingly firm draw. It lights up easily, burns evenly, and builds a long and solid light gray ash.

The flavor starts out smooth and full, nutty with a minty veneer typical of Cameroon. Unlike some other Cameroon blends, afdoncarloscamthe wrapper here seems better integrated with the rest of the blend: it adds an element of spice but maintains its neutrality.

The Don Carlos corona definitely has a sweet spot in the middle third where the flavor becomes a little richer, moving from nuts to leather, and the aroma is sweet and mildly spicy. The final third heats up a bit, so you’ll have to slow down to maintain the balance and keep the taste from getting bitter.

This is a great little cigar — one of the best in its size, I think — but there may be some consistency problems, as Lisa found in her review for Her Humidor.

The Presidente, a 6.5 x 50 toro, is the largest (or at least the longest) size in the line. It displays the same construction characteristics as the Corona, including a distinctive glue smear half way down the barrel, and a neat triple cap. It lights easily on a match or two and burns without a hitch.

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AF Don Carlos Presidente

By contrast with the corona, the Presidente has a little more kick and by the end a lot less nuance than the smaller cigar. This toro opens up with a dose of peppery tobacco — piloto cubano, perhaps — and a barely noticeable touch of Cameroon spice.

After an inch the pepper wears off and the flavors glide down into nuts and leather, but it never achieves the same smoothness as the corona. It’s not harsh by any means, but there is a spicy vibrancy here that the corona does not possess. And while the corona is a solidly medium-bodied smoke, the Presidente reaches well into the full range.

The cedary sweetness from the Cameroon rises up when the pepper dies down and stakes its claim in the middle third of the Presidente, followed by a peppery reprise from the final third to the band. In the last couple of inches the pepper gradually builds and eventually overpowers the more subtle spices, leaving a lengthy and powerful finish on the palate.

Obviously there are similarities between the Don Carlos No. 3 and the Presidente — the way the wrapper blends with the core of the cigar, adding an element of spice without being obtrusive, is common to them both. Aside from that, they smoke quite differently and might very well appeal to different kinds of smokers. The No. 3 is smooth and medium bodied with finer notes of leather and mint, whereas the Presidente is medium to full and offers lots of pepper at the start and again at the conclusion of the cigar.

Both are quality cigars, but they are as different as the youngest and oldest brothers in a large family. Sure, they resemble each other, but one might be your best friend. The other might just be your best friend’s brother.

Thanks again to CigarsDirect.com for allowing me to meet the family! Stay tuned for the next installment of the Don Carlos Vertical Review, this time featuring the Robusto and the Double Robusto.

doncarlosband

Arturo Fuente Añejo No. 48

In September 1998 Hurricane Georges ripped through the Carribbean and caused widespread destruction, including crop damage in the Dominican Republic. Among the beseiged plantations was the now famous Chateau de la Fuente, where wrapper leaf for Fuente’s Opus X is grown and harvested.

Two years later the legacy of the storm was borne out in a shortage of Opus X wrapper, but instead of halting production altogether, Carlos Fuente Jr. directed the use of a different wrapper — a hearty maduro broadleaf. In this way improvisation triumphed over adversity and the Arturo Fuente Añejo was created.

The filler blend is said to be a combination of the blends used for Opus X, Don Carlos, and Hemingway cigars, all of which are themselves secret — which makes the Añejo blend an enigma wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a Connecticut broadleaf that has been aged for three to four years, including six to eight months in cognac barrels. (The original release used wrappers aged for seven years, hence the name Añejo, meaning aged.)

Current sizes in production:

  • No. 46 – 5 5/8 x 46
  • No. 48 – 7 x 48
  • No. 49 – 7 5/8 x 49
  • No. 50 – 5 1/4 x 50
  • No. 55 – 6 x 55
  • No. 77 “Shark” – 5 5/8 x 54

I usually try to smoke several cigars, preferably from different boxes, to prepare for a review, but in this case I was stymied by both the price and the availability of the Añejo. Typically these are released twice a year — in the summer around Father’s Day and again around the winter holidays. And even though they are reasonably priced by the manufacturer, consumer demand pushes the shelf price into the stratosphere. MSRP plus my state tax should place this stick in the $11 – 12 USD range. I paid $18 for one No. 48 last summer. That’s a bit rich for my blood, so I’m reviewing this cigar based on one single experience.

The Arturo Fuente Añejo is presented in a cedar sheath that seems to be more aromatic than most — I’m not sure if it’s by design or by accident, but it lends the wrapper an intense scent of sweet cedar. The wrapper itself is a moderately oily and rich looking oscuro.

In a pre-light pull the draw is firm to tight, and the flavor is of wood and straight sweet tobacco.

I was expecting the Añejo to be a big powerful smoke like its sibling Opus X, but this was not the case with the churchill sized No. 48. Instead what I found was a civilized and genteel cigar with an elegant perfume.

It starts up very smoothly with a good dose of sweet spice — light anise and sweet cedar. The finish is short and the aftertaste evanescent. It draws very well despite my initial pre-light impression — it’s firm, but the volume of smoke is effective and cool. The burn is even and consistent from start to finish.

The 48 doesn’t undergo a lot of transition during the course of the smoke. It grows in intensity, but it’s still playing the same song at a louder volume. Fortunately for me this is a song I really like. It starts out with moderately mild body and soon becomes medium-bodied for the duration. The last third does become a little bit richer, the spices turn from sweet aromatics to smatterings of pepper, and the aftertaste takes on a little more gravity. The finish stays crisp and clean to the band.

And from first light to last ash this cigar puts out a beautifully elegant aroma — it’s floral at times, cedary at others, and really enjoyable throughout. It reminds me a lot of the Fuente Work of Art maduro in this respect, but the Añejo is perhaps more refined. That could be due to the size difference rather than the blend, but I find the similarity unmistakeable.

I can certainly see why Lucky7 made one of the Anejo cigars his best of 2007. So far I think this is the best cigar I’ve smoked this year. But the price… Doh!

REFERENCES

Vitolas.net — a fantastic source for Fuente information and trivia.

Ashton Cabinet Belicoso

ashton-cabinet-beli.jpg

Long ago and far away, in a distant decade called the Eighties, there was an upstart cigar brand called Ashton. Robert Levin, who had been running Holt’s Cigar Company, decided to get into the cigar manufacturing business and borrowed the Ashton name from the respected line of English pipes. The very first Ashtons were produced in the Dominican Republic by Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame, but within a few years Levin began to work with his old friends the Fuentes.

Levin and Carlos Fuente Jr. began developing the Ashton Cabinet blend in the late eighties. The story goes that Levin asked the Fuentes if they could make a Hemingway cigar with a Connecticut Shade wrapper. Carlito Fuente said they could, and after working the blend for a couple years the final result was the Ashton Cabinet cigar. The original release comprised three shaped sizes; today there are ten, including four perfectos.

Levin remarked in an interview for Cigar Aficionado that at the time of release, the Ashton Cabinet was the highest priced cigar on the market. He doesn’t say what that price was, but the original Ashton Churchill at the time sold for $2.50. My, how times have changed.

The Ashton Cabinet was developed right around the time that Tabacalera A. Fuente took over Ashton production from Tabadom. The blend includes “no less than six different tobaccos” and features a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper. The binder and filler are Dominican, and the belicoso in the line is a short torpedo at 5 1/4 inches long by a 52 ring gauge.

This little belicoso is a handsome cigar — with its finely formed head and firm roll it balances nicely in the hand. The wrapper is a smooth colorado claro typical of quality shade leaf, but I noticed in one sample that the color varied within the leaf. The section toward the foot was a slightly tawnier shade than the upper half. A little distracting, but not a serious defect.

This cigar starts up with a dry flavor that some have described as bitter, but I wouldn’t go that far. This astringency dissipates after half an inch or so, within a few pulls at most, and is replaced by a mild nutty flavor. The smoke becomes increasingly creamy, and then the distinguishing element of the Ashton Cabinet comes to light: a deliciously sweet aroma that in a strange way reminds me of bubblegum. Not as cloying as a big wad of Bazooka, but to me there is something very confectionary about it.

Into the second half the flavor gets nuttier and the creamy texture of the smoke approaches a medium body. At times a dash of pepper touches the palate and throat, but the overall impresson is smooth and sweet with some light kitchen spice.

The burn tends to be a bit erratic but is mostly self-correcting, and the draw is just about perfect. Aside from the wavery burn this stick earns good marks for appearance and construction.

The Ashton Cabinet Beli is a tad pricey at around 8 USD, and I can think of cigars that are comparable in quality that are more affordable (La Tradition Cubana comes to mind) but this is indeed a high quality premium cigar. If price isn’t a determining factor, this is certainly a cigar to try if you’re after a light to medium bodied cigar with that creamy spice one often finds with Connecticut Shade.

-cigarfan