This is the story of the one that got away.
Sometime in 2006, as the sun began to rise on the Empire of Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia, I acquired a box of El Rey de Los Habanos toros. This was the first cigar produced by Pepin’s fledgling cigar company, also called El Rey de Los Habanos, based in Miami. I smoked one every once in a while and enjoyed them. A superb everyday cigar, I thought, and one I intended to review at some point.
But I never got around to that review, and in the meantime the box got lost in the humidor shuffle. The few remaining cigars were consolidated with others that I shelved for aging, and the last remaining Red Labels were forgotten.
In the ensuing years, El Rey de Los Habanos grew from a gleam in Don Pepin’s eye to an industry giant. The company shed first its name and then its home base in Miami to emerge as My Father Cigars, a very sizeable factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. And in 2011 the humble ERDLH Red Label was discontinued.
So when I uncovered these Red Labels in a box of assorted old stuff I felt a pinch of nostalgia. Back when Pepin made cigars for private clients I remember going into Cigar King in Scottsdale and examining the wares. After asking a few questions about his Pepin-made lines, the owner ripped open a fresh bundle of ERDLH and asked me to take a whiff. The smell was strong, and rich, and the owner swore up and down that it was just like opening a box of Habanos.
I can still get a trace of that grassy funk from the wrapper of these now 7 year old cigars.
El Rey de Los Habanos came to be known as the “Red Label” to distinguish it from other cigars made at the small Miami factory. The Red Label was a Nicaraguan puro with a corojo rosado wrapper, and up until 2011 it was made in four standards sizes: robusto, toro, torpedo, and corona.
Cigars from the My Father factory have a well-deserved reputation for fine craftsmanship, but the construction quality of those made in the early days in Miami were even better. The head and cap on this Red Label is a work of art. The rosado wrapper still shines with oil, even after seven years in my less than optimal storage facility (a converted wine refrigerator).
Aesthetically, this is as close to perfect as a cigar gets. It is almost a shame to cut and light this toro, but after doing so I find a pleasantly easy draw and an even burn. The ash does not want to drop, but after a couple of inches I have to force the issue. I hate ash in my lap.
Overall construction: Beyond excellent.
The Red Label is a medium-bodied cigar, and as such I should have known it wasn’t the best candidate for long-term aging. The palate flavors have faded and lost a lot of complexity, but I’m happy to report that the aroma is still amazing.
The flavor for the first inch of the cigar is of plain old toasted tobacco. It’s pleasant, but one-dimensional. There is a slightly tannic flavor on the tongue, even after all these years, but the sweetness of the aroma blends with this very nicely. The quality of the aroma saves the cigar at this point.
Black pepper makes an appearance about a quarter of the way through the cigar, but this flavor stands apart and alone. It’s as if the orchestra stopped and left the bassoon player to play the rest of the piece. It’s not bad, if you like bassoon solos.
Over time, the tannic backbone that supported this cigar has weakened to the point that the auxiliary flavors just don’t come together anymore. It’s still a pleasant medium-bodied cigar, with a lovely woody aroma and a hint of caramel here and there, but unfortunately I think my Red Labels are past their sell-by date.
I don’t regret buying this box at all. I only regret letting the last of them get away. If you’re lucky enough to still have a few around, smoke ‘em now and enjoy.