Some Gurkhas

Ninja smoke

The folks at the Gurkha Cigar Group were kind enough to send me a few single cigars late last year, and I’m just now getting around to offering my partially considered opinion. I don’t normally review single sticks because there are so many extrinsic factors that can affect a single smoking experience, but these are not particularly subtle cigars so I’m going to take a chance.

Just in case, take these quick reviews with a small block of sodium chloride.

Ninja

Gurkha’s Ninja (in the robusto and torpedo sizes) was named one of the best bargain cigars of 2011 by Cigar Aficionado.

Which reminds me — look soon for Marvin’s new publication, Cheap Cigar Aficionado, featuring an interview with a guy named Jack on his 10-foot aluminum rowboat. Jack sheds no light on Chateau Lafite or Cohiba Behikes in that article, but he has a lot of interesting things to say about Consuegras and nightcrawlers.

Ninja

Anyway. Ninja features an oily black Brazilian maduro wrapper, a Dominican binder, Nicaraguan filler, and a 5 dollar pricetag.

I was expecting the Ninja to sneak up on me, but it’s not so much stealthy as it is slightly eccentric. The smoke is smooth, full bodied, and sweet, and there’s lots of it. The base flavors are woody and earthy, but what distinguishes the cigar is its unusual aroma: a maple syrupy sweetness  combined with the scent of a just-extinguished candle. Carbonized sugar, sulfur, and melted wax. It’s not an unpleasant cigar, but rather odd. (I bet it’s also good for keeping the mosquitoes at bay. I’ll have to ask Jack if that’s the case.)

125th Anniversary

To celebrate Gurkha’s quasquicentennial Anniversary the company released this blend in three formulations: two 6 x 60 XOs (gordos), one in Maduro and the other Connecticut shade, and  this 6 x 52 toro with a Corojo wrapper. Don’t ask me how the company determined 1887 to be the year that got the ball rolling. As far as I know, the Gurkha Rifles were formed in 1815, so another anniversary opportunity is rapidly approaching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Maduro XO with a Brazilian wrapper was rated 94 by CA and was awarded ninth place in the Top 25 for 2013. Which is probably why they sent me the Corojo Toro, for which I thank them very kindly. The wrapper variety is the only info I have on blend composition.

This Anniversary toro is fine looking cigar with a supple colorado claro wrapper and a triple-wound cap. The draw is excellent and the smoke volume plentiful. It starts out creamy sweet and gradually turns earthy, picking up black pepper along the way. The aroma is oaky with a touch of vanilla. The overall taste is complex and worthy of an Anniversary cigar, as is the asking price: around $13 USD.

Evil

It’s better than bad, it’s evil. This is branding and marketing stuff, so don’t look for logical consistency here. Gurkha is keeping stride with the whole death-metal/goth theme prevalent in cigar branding, and Evil is the natural consequence. This blend features a Brazilian mata fina wrapper, a Dominican binder, and a Nicaraguan core. I smoked the robusto, or most of one anyway.

Gurkha Evil

The Evil toro is rustic in appearance, and its demeanor is no less refined. The phrase “pure strength” appears on the band, which is ample warning. It opens up with a friendly greeting, like a used car salesman sidling up to the bar: deceptively smooth though immediately pungent.

The base flavors are earthy with a humus-like mushroom quality. The flavors quickly get more serious as leather settles in for the ride and a dose of spicy cayenne tags along. By the mid-point it has become a little too abrasive for me to enjoy, but I can see how lovers of big-time Hondurans might get a bang out of this one. It reminds me a little of the Camacho corojo, and it’s priced in the same general vicinity: around $7 USD.

About these ads

San Cristobal Elegancia Pyramid

San Cristobal Elegancia

In the wintertime my thoughts usually turn to the rich dark flavors of maduro cigars, but I’ve been meaning to review this blend for so long that I’m going to make an exception to my cold weather routine and fire up a Connecticut shade.  Maybe I’m trying to turn the weather with my cigar. Let’s see if it works.

San Cristobal has been made by the crew at My Father Cigars since 2007, around the time when Don Pepin Garcia went from being the world’s premier boutique cigar maker to a major manufacturer. The cigar is made for Ashton Cigars, who began the series with a bolder blend more typical of Garcia’s stock-in-trade. In 2011 Ashton released the Elegancia extension, a much milder blend, in an attempt to satisfy the large number of cigar enthusiasts who opt for less aggressive smokes.

Beneath the suave Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper leaf of the Elegancia lies a blend of Nicaraguan filler leaves, including a Nicaraguan binder. Six sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Corona – 5.5 x 46
  • Grandioso – 6 x 60
  • Imperial – 6 x 52
  • Pyramid – 6.125 x 52
  • Churchill – 7 x 50

Construction Notes

The wrapper of the San Cristobal Elegancia is smooth and a light golden brown, fairly typical of Ecuadorian Connecticut. The roll is excellent, the cap is perfectly applied in an even spiral, and the cigar draws effortlessly yet yields a voluminous quanitity of creamy smoke. It burns evenly and builds a solid ash. There are a lot of things to like about Connecticut shade, and one of them is its predictably even burn. The Elegancia is no exception in that regard.

Overall construction: Excellent

Elegancia cigar

Tasting Notes

The Elegancia pyramid opens with its defining feature: a mild flavor combined with a very creamy texture. Many cigar smokers use the term “body” to refer to a cigar’s strength (which in turn can mean a few different things), but when I say “body” I mean the viscosity of the smoke. The Elegancia is a great example of a cigar with mild strength but full body. This smoke is like butter.

The opening flavors are nuanced and pleasant: a dry woody flavor with a smattering of black pepper, accompanied by a floral aroma. The aftertaste is tea-like, though this tea is a lot spicier than most.

As the cigar progresses it picks up a bready aroma, while soft baking spices replace the pepper on the palate.

Toward the band, the pepper returns and the base flavor becomes earthier, tannic with a citric edge. Smoking slowly, the aroma remains delicious to the end.

Conclusion

The San Cristobal Elegancia lives up to its name. This is indeed an elegant cigar. It has enough body to stand up as an after-dinner smoke, but it is probably best enjoyed after breakfast with coffee or tea. If it were just a tad less tannic in the last inch I would say it’s close to being the perfect morning smoke. As it is, it’s just damn good. Which is about what we expect from My Family and Ashton.

The Pyramid runs around $7 USD per stick, which is a good value given the quality of the cigar. Highly recommended.

Elegancia

Final Score: 90

Cult Classic Robusto

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peer into my humidor on any given day and you will see about a dozen top-tier cigars, carefully arranged atop a maelstrom of fifty or sixty everyday yard ‘gars. That ratio is a function of my cigar budget. I try to spend less than three bucks a stick on everyday smokes, and with the help of auction sites and closeouts at my local shops I can usually stay in the black — and out of the doghouse.

But I don’t review too many average everyday smokes, which is a mistake I should probably remedy. A solid and dependable 3-dollar stick will never inspire the way a limited Fuente or Davidoff might, but high-value and low-cost cigars should still be recognized in their class. Skulls and daggers and death metal iconography don’t impress me too much. A three dollar price tag does.

Cult Cigars don’t shirk on the gothic graphic design, but they do land in the right price range. I picked up a pair of Robustos for 2 dollars each at an auction site, which is far below suggested retail. It sounds like a suspiciously good deal, but after some research I learned the cigar was created to be “an everyday cigar that would appeal to wide range of cigar lovers.” That sounds like a good $3-4 smoke.

Cult Classic is made by TACASA in Esteli for Quality Importers and features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. Nicaraguan Jalapa serves as the foundation, complemented by an Indonesian binder. The blend is currently available in four sizes:

  • Robusto 5 x 50
  • Toro 6 x 50
  • Torpedo 6.25 x 52
  • Toro Grande 6 x 60

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Construction Notes

The Cult Classic’s Ecuadorian wrapper leaf is dry and has a pleasantly leathery texture that is accentuated by the square press of the cigar.  This robusto is roughly milk-chocolate in tone with some minor veining.  The cap is thrown on the rounded head haphazardly. The draw is a little bit loose, causing a quick and somewhat hot burn.

On the positive side, the cigar burns beautifully — always a pleasant surprise for a pressed cigar.

Overall Construction: Good

Tasting Notes

The Cult Robusto opens with its best feature and never lets up: Cocoa. There is a trace of black pepper which provides a nice counterpoint to the earthy sweetness on the tongue, but what I really appreciate here is the note of cocoa on the nose. The cigar has a very pleasant aroma overall.

There isn’t a whole lot of development — an intensifying earthiness, some tea-like acidity, and continuing cocoa.

Toward the band the cigar picks up a little more pepper, but never becomes a truly spicy smoke.

Conclusion

The Cult Classic is mild in strength but medium in body, which makes it a great candidate for a morning smoke. There’s plenty of flavor here, nicely nuanced but not heavy or complex. My only complaint is that both sticks suffered from a hot and quick burn, most likely the result of a loose roll.

The going price for the Cult Robusto is around $6 USD per stick, but smart consumers can score an easy deal on these without looking too far. I wouldn’t fill my cart to overflowing with them, but at half the price I’d be happy to have a few around for breakfast time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Final Score: 85

CAO Flathead Camshaft

CAO Flathead

CAO introduced its newest blend a few weeks ago, a square pressed cigar inspired by the flathead engine design made famous by Ford in the 40s and 50s.  As I’ve been told by greasy guys in coveralls who know way more about this stuff than I do, the flathead engine design is not exclusive to Ford, or even to cars, but it seems likely that the guys at CAO were thinking of Ford’s flathead V8 and not lawn mowers when they were dreaming up their newest line.

The team at CAO has been busy in the last few years, releasing OSA Sol and the CAO Concert, both blends that I’ve enjoyed a lot. The Flathead line is strikingly different in appearance. The wrapper is a very dark and well matured Connecticut Broadleaf, and the head of the cigar is, to no one’s surprise, flat. But it’s not just flat in the Cuban style, it’s as flat as the foot, so that the head has no shoulders to speak of. It looks like the head of the cigar was pressed when the wrapper was still wet.  I wondered at first if this might present clipping problems, but  I’ve honestly had bigger problems with a socket wrench. (My mechanical skills leave a lot to be desired.)

Under the hood is an Habano Connecticut binder, beneath which roars an engine powered by Nicaraguan ligero. Four sizes are in production:

  • V642 Piston (6.5” x 42)
  • V554 Camshaft (5.5” x 54)
  • V660 Carb (6” x 60)
  • V770 Big Block (7” x 70)

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is uniformly dark — almost black — and oily. A simple guillotine cut worked surprisingly well for me, but a punch cut would be the most intelligent way to go.  The Flathead is square pressed, which can sometimes lead to burn problems, but the cigar burns evenly for the most part. The draw is excellent, and the burn is slow.

This cigar pumps out an enormous volume of smoke, which might be a consideration if you’re smoking indoors. It’s hard enough to be discreet with a cigar, but you won’t get away with this one in the men’s room.  (Or the ladies’ room. Sorry, ladies.)

Overall construction: Excellent

CAO Flathead

Tasting Notes

The Flathead Camshaft opens with a raisiny flavor. It’s sweet and smooth, but the smoke is heavy. It reminds me a little of the St. Luis Rey Serie G Maduro —  the room smell is quite earthy in comparison to the flavors on the palate. I like this aspect of the cigar a lot.  Gradually the fruity flavor darkens — more prunes than raisins — and it picks up a piney overtone.  The strength of the cigar is solidly medium, despite the heaviness of the smoke texture.

The middle section retains the sweetness of its opening act but adds a leathery, meaty quality. A touch of earthiness contributes a charcoal-like quality. It’s like sitting next door to a barbecue party. Pretty soon you’re breaking open those t-bones you were saving for Sunday.

The last section is a little spicier on the tongue, but more chocolatey on the nose. The coffee and chocolate flavors gradually die down and the cigar fades into char.

Conclusion

CAO’s new Flathead blend is a full-bodied, medium-strength cigar with a sweet and potent aroma. The Camshaft vitola, an oversized robusto, burns slowly and develops enough complexity that it kept my interest for just over an hour. In the final analysis I find it to be just a little too sweet for my palate, but I love the room smell it leaves behind. (As long as the room is my garage and not my living room.)

It’s a nicely balanced cigar, and certainly one to try for fans of Connecticut broadleaf maduro.

Final Score: 87
CAO Flathead

La Gloria Cubana Serie R Esteli

Serie R Esteli

La Gloria Cubana has always been associated with the Dominican Republic, so two new blends rolled in Nicaragua are an interesting development for the company. Both blends are in the “Serie R” line, and true to that tradition they’re all wide bodies. The “R” stands for robusto, even though ring gauges for these lines generally exceed the familiar 50/64 inch robusto size.

Both blends are Nicaraguan puros concentrating on the flavors of leaf grown in the Jalapa valley. What distinguishes them is the wrapper — the Serie R Black features a Jalapa ligero, while the Esteli line uses a Jalapa Sol wrapper.

Tobaccos from Jalapa tend to be a little softer and less spicy than those from Esteli, even though these areas are not geographically all that distant from one another.  One of my favorite cigars in recent years is Carlos Torano’s Single Region blend from Jalapa, and I’ve noticed that Nicaraguan cigars that utilize leaf from this area fit my criteria for a great smoke: they tend to be rich in flavor, medium to full in body, and usually won’t knock a lightweight like me into the next county.

As of this writing, only three sizes are in production, all toro or toro-plus sized:

  • No. Fifty-Four – 6 x 54
  • No. Sixty  – 6 x 60
  • No. Sixty-Four – 6 ¼ x 64

Construction Notes

The LGC Serie R Esteli No. 54 appears princely with its dark colorado maduro wrapper and black and silver band. The wrapper is quite oily with some fine veins, and its rich hue makes an impression. The roll is slightly irregular, but solid, and the cap is bit messy yet entirely functional. (If something can be called functional by dint of its removal.) The draw is excellent, and the burn is extremely slow. I was able to stretch this cigar out for a good hour and fifteen minutes and never had a burn issue the while.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Gloria cubana esteli

Tasting Notes

The 54 opens with a sweet and woody character, punctuated by leather and spice. The woody element is sweet and clean, reminding me of juniper more than the cedary aroma typical of so many cigars these days. This toro seems to be more complex in its first third than it is later on, which is a bit unusual, but this may be in part due to the amount of time it takes to smoke. After an hour my taste buds get a bit fatigued and I’m less able to detect subtleties.

The smoke is medium in body and quite smooth. The flavors and aromas presented in the first third reappear in the middle section, though the taste is less clean and takes on a meaty, barbecued tang. The final section continues on that path but the sweetness wanes after a brief flirtation with chocolate.

Conclusion

La Gloria Cubana has a great new blend here, especially for fans of the rich complexity of Jalapa tobaccos. The combination of wood and leather with just the right amount of sweetness really hits the spot this time of year.  I would love to see this cigar in a standard robusto size, but the trend toward large ring gauges is apparently no longer a trend and is now simply what the market is demanding. So I will rest content with the relatively svelte 54.

The Serie R Esteli is available in boxes of 18, and singles go for around $6.50 USD.  Add two bits for the 60, and a buck for the 64. That’s a very respectable price for a cigar of this magnitude and quality.

LGC Serie R Esteli

Final Score: 91

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples for review. 

A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince 2004 Pinar del Rio Cigars have been making their way into discerning smokers’ humidors, and while I’ve been familiar with the standard lines for a long time, I haven’t had the opportunity to smoke any of their limited releases. After smoking two sizes of the A. Flores Gran Reserva, I am happy to announce that Srs. Rodriguez and Flores have not been resting on their laurels.

The PDR factory is located in the La Palma free zone area of Tamboril in the Dominican Republic. It’s a fairly new facility, where they make not only PDR’s standard lines, but also contract brands like La Palina Classic and El Primer Mundo. In the last year or so they have also released limited lines like this one, AFR-75, and Flores y Rodriguez Tamboril in a variety of small batch blends. And I’m sure there are many more.

A. (Abraham) Flores is PDR’s primary blender, a native Dominican, and the man behind the A. Flores Reserva. This cigar was originally released in one size only — the curious half-corona size, inspired by the classic Cuban H. Upmann half corona. The cigar was well recieved, so the lineup was expanded to include a 5 x 52 Robusto and a 6 x 54 Gran Toro.

Flores heavily favors Dominican tobaccos, but Nicaraguan leaf frequently appears in PDR blends as well. The A. Flores Reserva utilizes a 2006 Dominican corojo wrapper, with Dominican corojo and Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler leaves. The cigar is rolled using the entubado method.

Construction Notes

PDR Cigars was kind enough to send the A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva in two sizes — the original half corona size, and the robusto. Both are very attractive looking smokes, arriving complete with cedar sleeve and red ribbon foot bands. Once divested of its sleeve, the Gran Reserva exhibits a maduro-colored wrapper that looks as rich and rough as broadleaf.

The roll is solid and the head of the cigar is triple wound with nice broad seams. The cap is pasted on and looks a little messy, but that problem is quickly remedied with a guillotine cut. The draw is excellent, and it burns slowly and evenly, leaving a solid light gray ash.

Overall Construction: Excellent

A Flores Reserva

Tasting Notes

The flavor of the Gran Reserva reminds me why aged wrapper leaf is so fine. There is a component to the aroma of this cigar that I’ve noticed before in carefully aged wrappers — a sweet liqueur-ish quality, almost like the taste of brandy, that is fairly rare and quite enjoyable. The smoke is thick and creamy in texture. The robusto is much smoother than the half corona, which I think deserves fully as much time to smoke as the robusto. The smaller cigar shares many of the same flavors as the robusto, but the flavors are concentrated and more intense.

The middle section of the cigar brings a little more strength. This is more noticeable in the robusto, because the half corona is feisty from the start. Woody flavors come to the fore, accompanied by a slightly astringent Nicaraguan acidity. The aroma remains sweet, rounded out by the flavors on the palate.

Both sizes finish up with a lot of spice, though the robusto seems a little more complex and balanced than the half corona. On the nose are notes of coffee and caramelized sugar.

Conclusion

The A. Flores Gran Reserva is a special smoke. I liked both sizes a lot, though I found the robusto to be more complex and a little easier to smoke. The half corona needs to be sipped like whisky to get the most out of it. Judging by its size I thought it might be a good short smoke, but it probably needs a good 45 minutes to be appreciated. Don’t rush this little feller.

The half corona is available for around $5 USD, maybe slightly less in tins of five. The robusto is around $11, which puts it in the special-occasion premium category for me. But it deserves to be there.

A. Flores Reserva

Final Score: 91

CLE Corojo 50 x 5

CLE Corojo

The CLE Brand is named for its founder, Christian L. Eiroa, formerly President of Camacho Cigars. In 2008 Camacho was acquired by Davidoff, and a few years later Christian left the company entirely and lit out for the territories.

Well, not the territories exactly, except in a metaphorical sense. Actually, CLE cigars were first made in a location very familiar to Eiroa — the Tabacos Rancho Jamastran factory in Danli, where Camacho cigars have been made for years and years. Production has now shifted to a new factory, a renovated theater in Danli called El Cine Aladino. I suppose it’s no coincidence that the theater was opened by Christian’s grandfather in the 1970’s. You never have to look too far in the cigar industry to find the family connection.

The Eiroas are inextricably linked to Corojo, which probably wouldn’t exist in its original state were it not for Julio Eiroa, Christian’s father, smuggling the seed out of Cuba. So it is quite apt that one of the first blends from CLE should focus on this iconic strain of cigar tobacco.

CLE cigars are vintage dated, a practice that many cigar connoisseurs have advocated for a long time. As Eiroa said to Cigar Insider, “Tobacco is different year after year — a new year is a new vintage.”  A few weeks ago I sampled three different vintages of Don Pepin Garcia’s Blue Label cigar to demonstrate just this point, so add my name to the list of those glad to see that CLE is adopting this procedure.

The CLE Corojo is a Honduran puro, and there are four sizes in production. I haven’t omitted the frontmarks here — the size and the frontmark are one and the same:

  • 46 x 5 3/4
  • 50 x 5
  • 11 x 18  (figurado)
  • 60 x 6

CLE

Construction Notes

The Corojo wrapper on the CLE is colorado maduro in tone and is just slightly oily. The head is rounded and finished with a fine triple cap. The roll is solid, and the draw good. The cigar burns fairly slowly and produces a dark gray ash, similar to what is found on many Cuban cigars.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The CLE Corojo reminds me a lot of the Camacho Diploma, albeit a much lighter version. This is Honduran tobacco in all its brawny glory — rich meaty flavors with pepper and a touch of cedary sweetness. By the mid-point the woody flavors give way to leather, and in the final stage red pepper is quite prominent. The finish is lengthy. I recommend frequent palate cleansing with lashings of cold lager.

It’s a medium-bodied cigar, but the strength grows from moderate at the outset to fairly strong at the end. I would not recommend smoking this one on an empty stomach.

Conclusion

If you’re partial to full-bodied Honduran tobacco and rich meaty smoke, you’ll dig the CLE Corojo. It has more complexity than many cigars in the same strength class, and it also has a pretty reasonable price tag. Cigar Aficionado named it one of their “Best Bargain Cigars” for 2012. The 5 x 50 runs in the $6 USD range, or a bit less. This is not a “bargain” price by my standards, but it’s not extravagant either. All in all a fine hearty smoke.

Final Score: 90

CLE

Torano Salutem Toro Major

Salutem

Lectori Salutem. Greetings reader. I suppose I should say “smoker” rather than reader, but I’m not sure that there is a Latin word for “smoker,” inasmuch as that part of the planet was a non-smoking area when Latin was the lingua franca.  Rome smoked away as much of it burned in 64 AD, but there were no smokers to blame. Nero strummed his lyre and blamed it on the Christians. Today I suppose the smokers would get the blame.

Often people approach me on the street and ask, “Cigarfan, how do you write a cigar review?” And my answer is always the same. Look, we’re going to have to go all the way back to ancient Rome, or maybe Greece, and engage in some rank speculation.  But my bus is almost here so let’s make this quick.

But we’ll skip over that for now and focus on the Salutem, a blend introduced by Toraño last year. According to the press release, the brand name is a nod to the “strong will of those who overcome great challenges and adversity.” Or as the criminals about to die in a staged naval battle said to the Emperor Claudius, “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant!” Which roughly translated means, “For those about to smoke, SALUTEM!!”

The heart of Salutem is comprised of a hearty blend of Dominican corojo, Nicaraguan leaf from Esteli, and Cameroon; this is bound in a Nicaraguan binder from Jalapa and finished with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The cigar is produced by the the American Caribbean Cigars factory in Nicaragua, and it is packed in boxes of 12 (soon moving up to 18.) The cigar is produced in the following sizes:

  • Robusto Extra: 5 x 52
  • Toro Major 5 5/8 x 55
  • Piramide 6 1/8 x 52
  • BFC 6 1/8 x 60
  • Box Press 5 1/2 x 55

Salutem Sunset

Construction Notes

The golden caramel-colored wrapper leaf on this cigar is quite pleasing to the eye, even if it is marred somewhat by the roughness of the binder beneath. The head is carefully wound and crowned with a single cap. Both cigars burned very well, even though they were inconsistent in other ways. The difference between the two cigars seems to be in the bunching. Both cigars drew well, though one was a bit tighter than the other. As a result one burned slower, and seemed to be both stronger and more peppery.

Overall construction: very good, despite some inconsistencies.

Tasting Notes

The Salutem Toro Major has a generally dry flavor profile, but it develops considerable complexity. At first the tannin comes on a bit heavy, but as the cigar loosens up it shows an earthy flavor on the palate with notes of vanilla, oak, and sweet fruit on the nose. Eventually the fruity flavor comes into focus as cherry or black cherry, and a minty eugenolic flavor appears. I’m guessing that is the Cameroon’s contribution to the blend, but wherever it comes from, it’s a delicious addition.

One of these Toros was noticeably spicier than the other, and slightly more potent, leading me to wonder if the heavier and more tightly rolled cigar received an extra helping of ligero by accident. I didn’t enjoy this cigar as much as the other, since the peppery flavors overwhelmed the complexity of the blend.

I almost always smoke two cigars before forming an opinion about a blend, and two usually seems enough. Occasionally fatigue or complacency hampers my enjoyment of a cigar, and some days are better than others, but usually two sticks does the trick. But with Toraño’s Salutem, I feel like I need a larger test pool. The two cigars were so different that I’m not sure which was the real Salutem.

Salutem 3

Conclusion

I can’t comfortably rate this cigar until I smoke a few more, but I liked it enough to do just that. It’s a complex and flavorful medium-to-full bodied cigar, and it definitely piqued my interest. I just hope the inconsistency that I experienced was a fluke. In the meantime, Caveat Emptor.

Going price for Torano’s Salutem Toro Major is around $6.50.  Vale!

El Suelo & Trocadero from L’Atelier

L'Atelier bundles

With the introduction of the El Suelo and Trocadero cigar lines, Pete Johnson said, “I want to show people that I can make a great inexpensive cigar.” This reflects poorly on the Tatuaje Series P cigar, a mixed-filler econo stick which has been around for years.  I suppose I agree — the Series P is not a great cigar, but it is inexpensive, and evidently people buy it.  But I’m not sure it’s deserving of the Tatuaje brand name. When I think Tatuaje or L’Atelier, I don’t think blue-collar yard ‘gar, but at least it’s a niche they haven’t filled yet.

Both El Suelo and Trocadero fall under the L’Atelier umbrella (rather than Tatuaje) and are made by the Garcia family — not at My Father, but at the “other” factory — the TACUBA factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. These appear to be sister blends, so I’m going to review them together. The bands are similar in design — very simple bands that recall the golden age of cigars, when men were men and cigar bands were not suitable for framing.

El Suelo and Trocadero are distinguished mostly by the wrapper leaf. The former is a swarthy fellow with an Habano Oscuro capa, while Trocadero utilizes a much lighter Habano Rosado. Both are Ecuadorian in origin, and both cigars use Connecticut broadleaf and Nicaraguan tobaccos for binder and filler. Their sizes differ a little bit though:

El Suelo:

Terreno 5 1/4 x 56
Prado 5 3/4 x 58
Campo 6 1/4 x 60

Trocadero:

Cambon: 5 1/4 x 52
Honore: 5 3/4 x 56
Montaigne: 6 1/4 x 60

El Suelo means “the ground” in Spanish, and the sizes are agricultural terms for types of fields (as far as I can tell).  Trocadero, on the other hand, is an area of Paris, and the frontmarks are Parisian street names. I’m not sure what the significance of Paris is, but I suppose it’s congruent with a company called L’Atelier.

Construction Notes

Both cigars are attractive and exhibit excellent construction. The Trocadero is dry with fine veins and a slightly toothy wrapper. El Suelo is also dry in appearance but much darker. The wrapper almost looks like broadleaf.  The cap of the Trocadero Terreno is not picture perfect, but still perfectly functional, and the tip of the Suelo belicoso is finely finished. Both cigars are solidly rolled and burn evenly.

Overal excellent construction, particularly for bundle cigars.

Trocadero

Tasting Notes

Both Trocadero and El Suelo are mild to medium in body and strength, but the Trocadero is a much more earthy and tannic cigar, while El Suelo is sweeter.

Both cigars have an astringent quality, but Trocadero is actually bitter on the palate. (I hesitate to use the word “bitter” but in this case I think it’s warranted.) As the cigar burns the flavors settle in the earthy range with a slightly minty aftertaste. The aroma is nice though — mildly floral with a pleasingly creamy aspect.

El Suelo steers away from earthy flavors and opts for familiar Nicaraguan territory: wood smoke. There is a burnt sugar or cotton candy-like overtone in the first half which is gradually overtaken by spice as the cigar burns to the band.  Notes of coffee and cocoa are prominent on the nose. This cigar reminds me a lot of the Carlos Torano Signature blend, which is of course more expensive than this bundle smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these L’Atelier blends are made exceedingly well, and I think they are better than Tatuaje’s current budget option, the Series P.  In the $3-4 range, they are certainly good value cigars, though the avid Tatuaje or L’Atelier adherent will no doubt be disappointed by a lack of complexity.

I was pleasantly surprised by El Suelo in particular. The Trocadero was a little too dry for me, but I’d be happy to have a few Suelos in the humidor. I know it’s not high praise exactly, but these are above average yard ‘gars.

El Suelo

Final Scores:

El Suelo: 87

Trocadero: 83

Oja Anniversary Atrevido

OJA AnniversaryOja cigars are a relatively new boutique blend created by Luis Garcia and manufactured by Kiki Berger (of Cuban Crafters fame) in Esteli, Nicaragua. There are three standard lines: the Connecticut (with an Ecuadorian wrapper), Mestizo (Habano 2000) and Oscuro (Brazilian Arapiraca.)

But no cigar brand, no matter how young, is complete without an Anniversary blend. I came across Oja’s Anniversary line a few months ago and after purchasing a pair at the B&M, I decided to let them sit for a while. Sometimes a cigar wants some time to ruminate, and I thought these bad boys with the refined band needed to contemplate existence for a while.

The time seems to have served them in good stead. The blend is designed for strength, with a double helping of Nicaraguan ligero in the filler, a Nicaraguan binder, and a Brazilian wrapper of the “Samba” variety. I have never heard of Samba, but whatever it is, I like it.

It looks like the Oja Anniversary is still in production, but it is not exactly easy to find. Three sizes were designed for the Anniversary blend:

  • Atrevido – 5 x 54
  • Ilustre – 6 x 58
  • Elegante – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Oja anniversary Atrevido is a square pressed robusto with a dark and dry wrapper leaf. Brazilian Samba looks a lot like broadleaf maduro, but to me it seems a bit sweeter. The head of the cigar is formed well, but the cap is a little messy. The draw is excellent, and it burns quite evenly, which is notable for a pressed stick.

Overall construction: Excellent

Oja

Tasting Notes

The Oja Anniversary isn’t a cigar that evolves too much, but it is balanced and the flavors are complex enough to keep my interest despite the lack of transition flavors. This cigar offers what I associate with great maduro cigars — rich and earthy flavors on the palate with overtones of chocolate and dark-roasted coffee on the nose.

Also present is a woody sweetness that I generally associate with Nicaraguan tobacco. The smoke is slightly tart on the tongue, and a touch of acidity gets the juices flowing. The flavors complement each other nicely and blend well.

I was expecting a little more spice in the finale, but it remains pleasantly balanced to the end. Some char and a dash of pepper appear at the end to wave goodbye.

Conclusion

I like full-bodied cigars, but I like them especially when the smoke is as creamy and smooth as this one is. A full-bodied cigar, in my opinion, does not have to scorch your tongue off with spice or turn your stomach with nicotine. And the Oja Anniversary does neither, while remaining a substantial and flavorful smoke.

It’s not a sophisticated cigar, but it’s finely balanced and tasty. It’s exactly what I look for in a top tier maduro — it’s smooth, with layers of chocolate, dark roasted coffee, and a sweet earthy aroma that makes my garage smell just like… my garage.

The bad news? They’re not easy to find, and they’re on the pricey side. MSRP for a box of 20 at Cuban Crafters is $254.99. It’s a great cigar, but in the $12-13 range they face some fierce competition.

Final Score: 92OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA