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

Julius Caeser 2

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.

Julius Caeser 3

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

Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series

Benji Menendez is one of those living legends of the cigar business, a cigar maker who is still blending tobaccos and passing on the tradition years after most mere mortals would be enjoying their retirement. Menendez has an entire lifetime of experience to draw on. In fact, when you see the M & G insignia on a Montecristo cigar band, that M stands for Menendez.

As an heir to Cuba’s largest cigar factory, H. Upmann, and the Menendez y Garcia tobacco concern, young Benjamin had a lot to look forward to as he grew up in an upper-class Havana neighborhood. Despite his privileged position as the son of the company’s majority owner, he still had to learn the industry from the bottom up, starting with packing cigars, and then working his way through the departments to a management position.

In 1960 the factory was seized and from there the Menendez story takes an all too familiar turn. A new start in America was about to begin, starting in Miami and soon moving to the Canary Islands, where Mendendez created the blockbuster Montecruz brand. Many years later he became the head of premium cigar operations for General Cigar. Fifteen years after that, during the cigar boom of the late 90′s, Menendez joined the Spanish giant Tabacalera, which eventually merged with SEITA to form Altadis. Now he is back again with General, where the powers that be have in all their wisdom tasked him with the creation of this limited edition Partagas.

Only 5000 boxes of the Partagas Master Series were made, and in only one size, a 6 x 46 Grand Corona dubbed Majestuoso. Like the Montecruz of the 60′s, this one has an attractive Cameroon wrapper. The rest of the blend is more unusual: a Habano binder grown in Connecticut, filler from the Dominican Republic (piloto cubano) and two different regions in Nicaragua (Esteli ligero and Ometepe.) On paper this sounds like a thunderous cigar. In practice it’s actually quite smooth, but very expressive at the same time.

Construction Notes

The roll is rock solid, but it draws with even and easy tension. The wrapper is dark with fine veins and appears slightly toothy. The head is rounded with a cap that is so well integrated the seams are difficult to detect. It burns evenly and builds a solid, firm, and neat long ash.

Overall excellent — near perfect — construction.

Tasting Notes

The Partagas Master Series Majestuoso is a medium to full bodied cigar with lots of flavor. Taken slowly it’s smooth and easy to smoke, but it can develop a bite if rushed.

From the first pull it’s evident that this blend is heavier than the standard (Non-Cuban) Partagas line. The flavor is a complex of cedar, spice, leather and coffee in varying combination as the stick burns through the first third. There is a touch of black pepper which will return again in the last section.

An acidic edge cuts through the chocolate and cinnamon in the middle third, leaving a tea-like tang on the tongue. The body of the cigar is light enough not to overpower this subtle touch, but heavy enough to coat the palate with an array of flavors. The aroma is rich with cedar and coffee, while leather spiked with pepper lingers on the finish.

The strength of the cigar comes through at the finale, hitting me in the gut but not knocking me over. The aroma becomes piney and the aftertaste grows a little bit salty. Some char appears near the band.

Conclusion

Benji Menendez’s Master Series blend is an accomplishment worthy of a man who has dedicated his entire life to the art of the cigar.  It’s flavorful, complex, smooth, and balanced. It’s expressive without being aggressive. It’s just a really fine cigar on all fronts.

It’s also priced within reason, especially for a limited edition release of such high quality. Ten American greenbacks is about all this one will set you back. But get them while they’re still around, because they won’t be for long.

Final Score: 91

Romeo y Julieta Museum Edition

Altadis has commissioned 3D artist Charles Fazzino to create prints for their “Museum Edition” cigars, of which there are now two: the 6 x 53 Montecristo, and this one, the 6 x 54 Romeo y Julieta. They are special edition cigars, of course, and as such are touted as “super premiums,” which means that the retail price is exorbitant. In this case, around 30 USD per stick. Yikes.

Fortunately there is a shortage of wastrels in today’s economy, and these cigars can usually be found for less than MSRP.  I snagged this one — and one only — for 20 bucks. (The Altadis rep threw in a couple of other top line cigars and a Romeo y Julieta coffee mug gratis, so the net price ended up being about 7 dollars.)

The big draw with this release is the limited edition humidor which houses these big ticket sticks. The humidor includes a signed and numbered giclee print. I’m no art collector, but maybe this will be worth something some day. I hope so anyway, because the price for the whole shebang is $1080.00.

Instead of the pile of gold doubloons that I would expect to find in a box with that price tag there are 36 cigars encased in frosted crystal tubes. A paper thin cedar sheath inside each tube cradles the cigar, along with a Fazzino picture that just barely shows through the frosting on the glass. Me, I’d take the cedar sans the picture, but like I said, I’m no art critic. The gold cap that tops each tube is wedged on pretty tight — I actually crushed the tube in my massive Hellboy-like fist while I was trying to open it in the cigar shop. Be careful with this one, especially if your mechanical skills are as primitive as mine.

This cigar is made in the famous Tabacalera Garcia factory in the Dominican Republic. The wrapper is a San Andres Criollo 98 Rosado (yes, that’s Mexican, but we’re far from Te Amo territory here) with a Connecticut broadleaf binder and a filler blend from Nicaragua and the Dominican. Only one size is made: a 6 x 54 parejo.

Construction Notes

Despite its girth the cigar sits nicely in the hand, and seems to be well rolled. The head is finished nicely with a triple cap but the final piece is jagged and appears a little sloppy. (At $30 per cigar I reserve the right to be picky.)  The wrapper is a real beauty though — a rich, dark colorado maduro leaf that glistens with oil.

Even though the pack seems solid enough, the draw is a bit loose. This caused some problems down the road — I sat the cigar down for just a minute to freshen my drink and it went out. On the positive side, it produced plenty of smoke and never burned hot the way some loosely packed cigars will do.

From the start I had trouble keeping this one burning evenly, but this seems to be the curse of really tasty wrapper leaf. It also burns fairly rapidly for a cigar with such a large ring gauge — smoking time was a little under an hour; I expected a bit more from a cigar this size.

Overall construction good, but not 30 dollars good.

Tasting Notes

Almost immediately the Romeo Museum Edition displays tremendous complexity. It’s extremely smooth, mild to medium in body, and has a delicious and distinct aroma. This is obviously the selling point. The wrapper on this cigar is a wonder.

The first notes are the ones that stay for the duration of the smoke: sweet caramel over an herbal base that has an unusually malty edge to it. After an inch or so the herbal flavor morphs into an sweet earthy taste that at times reminded me of something more musky, something almost like gunpowder. It’s complex but very easy on the palate.

Eventually coffee flavors come to the front, though it’s not standard coffee — it’s one of those poncy latte things with cream and caramel and God knows what else. It’s good though. The sweet malty aroma continues, with an occasional whiff of bread.

The last section is a little more straight forward: earthy and sweet, with the caramel notes getting fruitier toward the end. I was a little frustrated with the burn at this point and might have been puffing a little too hard, forcing the cigar to burn too hot. Some acrid notes muscled their way in after I removed the band, but with a little more patience I might have avoided this.

Conclusion

Despite its flaws, the Romeo y Julieta Museum Edition is a terrific cigar. The flavors here are tremendously varied and interesting, spanning the spectrum from sulfurous earth to caramel-sweet bread. The amazing thing is that these disparate flavors never conflict; instead they combine and follow one another in remarkable harmony.  The blender here is to be congratulated — this is a really fascinating bunch of leaves.

But with the caveat that I have smoked all of ONE of these cigars, the roll could have been tighter and the burn was less than spectacular. Perhaps this is the price you pay for the smorgasbord of subtleties on display here, but I won’t deny that there were a few relatively minor construction issues.

Keep in mind that this is a fairly mild cigar. I know many veterans of the leaf who would be simply bored with the Museum Edition, but I am not one of them. What this is, I think, is the absolutely perfect beginner’s smoke. It’s quite mild, superbly smooth, and marvelously complex. If your taste runs to powerful pepper bombs that leave your mouth scorched with spice, this cigar is not for you. But if you appreciate the subtleties of milder cigars, definitely give it a shot, as long as the price is right for you.  For me, thirty dollars is ridiculous. But if I could snap some of these up for ten, I just might.

Final Score: 90

Padron 1964 Anniversary Exclusivo Maduro

Padron64Mad

Padron’s 1964 Anniversary cigars are so classic at this point that it’s hard to believe the blend is only fifteen years old. The 1964 was created to celebrate the Padron company’s 30th Anniversary in 1994. It was also, as George Padron added in a CA interview,  “something special as we went to nationwide distribution.”

There are currently ten sizes in production, all available in either a sun-grown natural wrapper or maduro. The maduro version seems to be the most popular, but I have to say I like the natural just as well, if not better.

Padron is proud of its seed-to-smoke, vertically integrated operation, so the Anniversary blend is like all the rest of their cigars: an undisputed Nicaraguan puro.  Jorge Padron, the patriarch of the family, explains that the cigars are square pressed,

because they reminded me of the squared cigars in Cuba that I used to smoke. It is the only thing I have actually copied from a good Cuban cigar.”

The cigars I smoked for the review were from 2006. The tobaccos in this blend are aged for four years to start with, so a few more years shouldn’t make that much of a difference. This is a deliciously smooth smoke straight from the factory, but three years in the humidor might have mellowed it even more.

Padron64Mad2

Construction Notes

The Exclusivo is the robusto size in the 1964 Anniversary line –  a simple 5 1/2 x 50 parejo with an obvious square press. The wrapper is a little dry but consistent in color. As is typical with Padron cigars, it’s a little hard to tell the difference between the sun-grown natural and the maduro wrapper.  (In the top photo the maduro is on the left, the natural on the right.) They’re both pretty dark, and a little rough – some of these have really prominent veins, discreetly situated so they run laterally down the cigar. But that’s sun-grown leaf for you. What you lose in aesthetics you gain in flavor.

The cap is sub-par for a super-premium cigar, but at least it’s more attractive than what you’ll find on the Padron standard series. Aesthetically the cigar suffers a little, but the rest of the construction is almost perfect — a firm roll, an easy draw, and an even burn — which is worth noting because this is a square pressed smoke. Even the ash is firm and hassle-free.

Padron64Mad3

Tasting Notes

This is a smooth, medium-bodied, very flavorful cigar. It starts up with cedar and coffee with cream. After an inch it becomes more complex, adding some sweetness and a silky aftertaste. The aroma is mild but nicely spiced, reminding me in a way of incense. At one point it occurred to me that smoking this cigar is almost like being in church.

The mid-section is a little heavier and exhibits that typically Nicaraguan acidic flavor on the sides of the tongue and back of the mouth. Cocoa notes are up front with some mild spice that keeps pace with a sweet woodsy aroma. The smoke texture is medium-bodied and stays very smooth.

The Exclusivo finishes up with a classically maduro finale — coffee and chocolate with a beautifully creamy texture. This cigar lacks the third stage bitterness that makes an appearance towards the band of most ordinary cigars – only at the very end is there some bittersweetness and a little char.

Conclusion

The Padron ’64 doesn’t get reviewed too often, probably because it’s so well known and because there is a general consensus that it’s a damn fine smoke. It’s a cigar you’d rather enjoy than analyze. It’s not as bold as many other Nicaraguan puros, but it’s perfectly balanced: smooth and creamy, yet nicely spiced. It burns without a second thought. And it’s simply one of my favorite cigars. If you’ve never smoked the Padron ’64 before, you really need to treat yourself sometime.

Average retail is around 11 USD for the Exclusivo.

Padron64Mad4Final Score: 94

Other Reviews of Note

In the Humidor takes a look at the Exclusivo Maduro

Cigar In Hand grapples with an aged Exclusivo, also Maduro

Nice Tight Ash reviews the Superior Maduro

moki checks out the Natural Exclusivo for Cigar Weekly