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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Ezra Zion FHK & Rodrigo Fortaleza

Ezra Zion FHK

Well, if it isn’t another San Andres Maduro cigar! Lucky for me, I can’t get enough of them. This entry is a recent blend from Ezra Zion, introduced last year at the annual IPCPR show. The initials stand for “Fathers of Hoover and Kelly,”  owners of the company. The FHK is in the company’s “Honor Series,” so naturally this cigar is made in tribute to those gentlemen.

Beneath the FHK’s alluring maduro capa lies an Indonesian binder and filler leaves from Brazil and Nicaragua. The cigar is rolled at the Plasencia factory in Nicaragua in four sizes:

  • 5.5 x 50 – “Inspired”
  • 7 x 44 – “Truth”
  • 7 x 54 – “Stature”
  • 6 x 52 – “Character” (Belicoso)

The lancero-sized “Truth” is a well-made and attractive cigar. The bands are appropriately elaborate for a tribute cigar, and they set off the rusticity of the maduro wrapper. The foot band peels off easily. The roll is firm, as is the draw, but this does not inhibit smoke production in the least. The head is nicely triple-wound and the cigar burns evenly for the most part.

The “Truth” opens smoothly with coffee flavors and a slightly sweet chocolate on the nose. (In this case, the Truth does not hurt.) The smoke texture is dense and chewy, a perfect accompaniment for the richness of the flavor. The centerpiece of this cigar is its wrapper, but the fillers provide an earthy and at times herbal foundation which blends well with the aroma. In the last third a moderate spiciness enters to keep things interesting.

Ezra Zion’s FHK lancero is smooth without being simplistic — it reminds me a little of the Emilio AF-1, perhaps with a little more complexity. A delicious smoke for lovers of San Andres Maduro, and for maduro smokers generally.

Rodrigo

Rodrigo Cigars began as a burning curiosity about the cigar-making process when George Rodriguez boarded a plane bound for the Dominican Republic in 2010. Soon that curiosity would blossom into a passion, a mission, and three cigar blends. (Rodriguez’s story is both funny and touching — check it out here.)

Based on the name of the blend I anticipated that the Rodrigo Fortaleza blend would be a powerful smoke, but I was surprised by its complexity.  Most cigars in this class lean heavily on the pepper and char and not much else can break through. Not so with the Fortaleza.

The Fortaleza features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Dominican binder and filler blend. Four sizes are in production:

  • 5 1/8 x 43 – “Absoluto”
  • 5 1/2 x 50 – “Forte”
  • 6 3/4 x 48 – “Elegante”
  • 6 x 50 – “Cinco”

The Ecuadorian wrapper is dark, darker than some maduros, and thick, with some prominent veins. It’s slightly weathered in appearance and the seams are boldly apparent. Between the name of the cigar (meaning fortress, or strength, or resolution) and its rough-hewn appearance, the “Forte” strikes a formidable pose. The pig-tail cap is a mark of careful execution and the cigar is otherwise firm, though a tad bumpy. The draw is excellent. The only flaw might be an uneven burn, but I would almost expect that from a tough guy like this one.

The initial burst of black pepper is nearly a foregone conclusion. “What did you expect?” it seems to ask. “Gardenias?” The pepper is accompanied by sweet charcoal on the nose and a long finish with an earthy aftertaste. But as the cigar burns the pepper dissipates and some surprises are unveiled. Cedar and coffee are unexpected guests. They’re like your favorite aunt showing up on poker night with a case of your favorite microbrew. Unexpected, but welcome.

The Forteleza’s strength (if I can put it that way) is still power, but it’s not a monotonous power. I’m not sure I could handle this in a churchill or toro size, but the robusto was a nice little punch in the gut, and it is surprisingly sophisticated.

Rodrigo 2

Ezra Zion’s FHK is a step up in strength from the Emilio AF-1, and Rodrigo’s Fortaleza gives the crank another turn. They’re all great cigars, but if I keep going in this direction I’m going to get myself in trouble. Next up will be something a little milder.

 

Emilio AF 1 and AF 2

Emilio AF

Established in 2010, the House of Emilio is now home to nine different brands, and that number seems to be growing by the month. These are all boutique blends, made and distributed by cigar enthusiasts with the passion and resources to blaze new trails through a field dominated by industry heavyweights. 

What is unique about this consortium is that it doesn’t operate like a business conglomerate. The brands are all made independently and retain their individual identities. As the creator of the house, I would expect the Emilio brand to reside in the Master Suite, but the other brands have their own rooms, and it looks like the additions and improvements are still coming.

The House of Emilio was kind enough to offer me the grand tour, or at least a glance through the porch window, so over the next few weeks I plan to offer a few unvarnished thoughts on what I’ve seen and smoked.

Emilio AF 1

Emilio AF-1 Robusto

Probably the best known of the 8 or 9 different blends that fall under the Emilio brand umbrella, the AF-1 is a delicious cigar reminiscent of A.J. Fernandez’s San Lotano Maduro. Strangely enough, I had just smoked one of these the night before I lit up the AF-1 and remarked on its similarity. It would have been no surprise, had I done my homework, because the AF in the name of the cigar stands for Abdel Fernandez.

Like the San Lotano, the star of the AF-1 is its San Andres maduro wrapper. The bones of the blend are Nicaraguan, naturally, but that is as far as mere mortals are allowed to see into its musculoskeletal structure.

What I noticed most about the AF-1 was that the flavors were similar to the San Lotano, but the overall demeanor of the cigar was much smoother, creamier, and on the whole more enjoyable. This particular specimen had about a year to meditate and become one with my humidor, so maybe that was a contributing factor. But it’s easy to see why the AF-1 is one of Emilio’s best selling smokes.

Chocolate and cedar are the highlights of the AF-1. There is a touch of astringency  and a little roughness on the tongue which quickly dissipates, and from there it’s smooth sailing. The richness of the chocolate balances wonderfully with the cedary spiciness — a touch of pepper is a nice flourish. It’s similar to the San Lotano Maduro and also the Montecristo Reserva Negra – but in my opinion, better than either of those. A fantastic smoke.

Emilio AF 2

Emilio AF-2 BMF Gran Toro

While I am not a BMF aficionado, I was still excited to set this log alight. The wrapper on the AF-2 is an Ecuadoran Oscuro, which sounds like a mythical creation but isn’t. Remembering that maduro and oscuro are fermentation and maturation processes as well as color designations, it is indeed possible for a leaf to be lighter in color than “oscuro” represents. In this case the leaf is a dark golden brown, not quite maduro in color. What’s the Spanish word for the color of  an over baked peanut butter cookie? That would be close.

The AF-2 is a solid stick, but the draw is very loose. It didn’t seem to affect the burn though, so perhaps the loose draw is by design. This cigar is fairly peppery with some cocoa on the nose and later on some nice caramel sweetness. It’s also quite potent — just the sort of thing that followers of AJ Fernandez will appreciate.

Conclusion

Both the Emilio AF-1 and AF-2 are upper echelon boutique cigars worth seeking out. The AF-1 is a tasty and well-balanced cigar that should appeal to all but the most jaded ligero junkies. For a smoker of medium-bodied maduros, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

The AF-2 is a more potent, more complex cigar, at least in the BMF size that I smoked. I would like to try this one in a smaller size next time and see if it still knocks me overboard. Experienced cigar smokers and lovers of Fernandez blends will not be disappointed.

Both cigars are competitively priced in the $6-7 USD range.

Emilio AF 3

Cain Daytona 654T Torpedo

Cain Daytona

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Well, Mr. Shakespeare, that may be true. But there’s a reason you’ve never heard The Yellow Rhododendron of Texas. And there’s nothing in Holinshed about the War of the Daffodils, is there?

And yet I admit that half the reason I’ve never smoked a Cain cigar is because of the name. The story of Cain in Genesis is not one that I would expect to inspire greatness, unless the mark of Cain can somehow be construed to be a good thing. (Though Herman Hesse does this very thing in his novel Demian, so it’s not an impossibility.)

The other half of the reason is that Cain cigars are composed entirely of ligero tobacco leaf, the strongest and oiliest part of the stalk. Raw power is not really my thing. Ligero is an essential element in many fine blends, but I’ve always thought that smoking a ligero puro would be like sitting down to a tumbler of Bacardi 151. Drinkin’ TNT and smokin’ dynamite. (Yeah,I know — Muddy was smoking something a little different.)

But I love Jalapa tobacco, so when a reader last year mentioned that Cain’s Daytona blend is a Jalapa puro, I had to try it. The Jalapa Valley is the northernmost tobacco growing region of Nicaragua, and the shade afforded by the valley allows the tobacco to be a little more restrained than does the full sun of Esteli. The result is a complex tobacco with a soft and lush flavor.

Cain is made by Studio Tobac, the edgier wing of the Oliva Cigar Company. The cigar is made by Tabacalera Oliva in five sizes, from which the frontmarks take their names:

  • 660
  • 654T (torpedo)
  • 646
  • 550
  • 543

Cain Daytona 2

Construction Notes

The Cain Daytona torpedo arrives with only a foot band, and when this is removed it must stand naked before the world. But like a body builder on the beach, it has the physique to withstand close scrutiny, and seems to invite it. The wrapper is a smooth and attractive colorado maduro, with a touch of oil to highlight some fine veins in the leaf. The roll is even and solid. The cap is not Pepin-perfect, but the head clips easily and the wrapper doesn’t unfurl, which is always my primary concern.

It draws well, burns evenly, and builds a long, strong, dirty gray ash.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

What is immediately apparent about the Cain Daytona is its pungency. The resting smoke is powerful. The wrapper leaf is usually the most aromatic part of a cigar, so catching a whiff from the smoldering foot is one way I try to gauge its aroma. That is not easy to do with this cigar — and an accidental inhalation or even a retrohale might be a deal-breaker.

But the flavors on the palate are quite nice — lots of cocoa over an earthy and mineral-laced foundation. The smoke is not spicy on the tongue, but it leaves a peppery aftertaste. The smoke is not as astringent as a lot of Nicaraguan puros, but the cocoa screams Jalapa.

An odd thing about the Daytona is that the smoke is surprisingly thin. At first I thought the cigar might not be burning properly, but it turns out that the smoke texture is just very light. It isn’t often that a cigar’s body is outmatched by its strength, but here is a great example.

Conclusion

The Cain Daytona torpedo is a fascinating cigar, but as much as I love the tobaccos of Jalapa, I find this one to be unbalanced and thin. The lure of ligero is what the Cain line is founded on, so perhaps the blenders are simply sticking to their guns here — but I think a softer and more sophisticated wrapper leaf would go a long way toward smoothing out the pungency of the ligero and give the smoke a little more weight on the tongue.

On the other hand, if ligero is your thing, the Daytona might make a nice breakfast smoke for you. But not for me.  For now I believe I will stick with Torano’s Single Region to satisfy my craving for Jalapa.

Cain Daytona 3

Legado de Pepin Belicoso

Legado de PepinJose “Don Pepin” Garcia will certainly leave a legacy when he departs the cigar business, but is it time already to celebrate the achievements of a lifetime? Have we seen the best of Don Pepin? I hope not. I’m waiting for the day when he can legally and in good conscience finish a blend with a Cuban wrapper. Now that will be be a legacy cigar. A smoke for the ages.

For now, however, we have Legado de Pepin, a My Father blend that appears to be a creature of Cigars International. It is appropriately a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo wrapper and a Criollo binder — a fairly typical pairing for Pepin, and one that never seems to fail. The cigar is made in Nicaragua by My Father Cigars, naturally, and in five traditional sizes:

Belicoso – 6.1 x 52

Churchill – 7 x 50

Gordo – 6 x 60

Robusto – 5 x 50

Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Legado belicoso is a snazzy looking stick. The wrapper is dark and oily with some fine veins, and the head is finished in classic Pepin style. I  tend to clip belicosos and torpedoes a bit more severely than some do because it usually improves the draw and it also limits the amount of residue that accumulates in the last third. The drawback to doing this is that sometimes the wrap will come unfurled at the shoulder of the cigar. (If a torpedo can be said to have shoulders, that is.) But the Legado was unfazed by this and held together to the end.

Just about every construction detail of this cigar was perfect — an open and productive draw, a slow burn, and a strong ash. The only deduction it suffered was a point or two for a ragged burn. The tercedors at My Father are still hitting on all cylinders, and quality control remains tops in the business.

Overall Construction: Excellent

Legado de Pepin 2

Tasting Notes

The Legado de Pepin is a medium-to-full bodied cigar, which makes it fairly mild by Pepin standards. Most cigars from the My Father factory initialize with a wave of black pepper, but this belicoso holds the spice back for a minute or two while earthy flavors and notes of cocoa open the show. It is surprisingly mild for the first half-inch or so.

The smoke texture is creamy, and the flavor is smoother than I’d expected. Up to a point, that is.

Mid-way through this cigar it turns up the heat and takes on a more classic Pepin character — loads of pepper and a fuller body. The subtler flavors are overwhelmed and the power amplified. While the sophistication and complexity of the cigar suffers for this, it’s what most smokers look for in a Nicaraguan puro, and what most smokers look for in a My Father blend.

The finale is marked by pepper, char, and a sharply earthy aftertaste.

Conclusion

I really enjoy almost any cigar from the My Father factory, and while Legado de Pepin might not be its crowning achievement, it is a worthy representative of the brand. What makes it particularly attractive is the price — a box of 20 runs around $90 USD, which is about half of what a box of My Father will set you back.

This is by no means a “budget” smoke, in terms of price or quality, but it is indeed a budget conscious smoke, and one worth checking out for the Nicaraguan puro aficionado, especially if price is an issue.

Legado de Pepin 33

Final Score: 88

Fonseca 120th Anniversary “Rarissimus” Corona

Fonseca CXX

I’ve been working my way through a couple of Fonseca samplers that I snagged on C-bid, and though I’m wary of cigars that have been repackaged in this way I’ve been quite satisfied this time around. Certainly there have been more hits than misses. One of the better finds is this Anniversary blend, dubbed “Rarissimus”.

The CXX Anniversary blend was released in 2011 to commemorate the founding of the Fonseca label in 1891. Francisco Fonseca established his Havana factory that year (or thereabouts) and eventually introduced two innovations still observed by some manufacturers today: he wrapped his cigars in fine Japanese tissue paper (which is still the case with the Cuban Fonseca) and he was the first to release cigars in tubes (tin, at the time). He immigrated to America in 1903 and registered the Fonseca brand name in 1907.

The 120th Anniversary line was issued by Quesada’s SAG Imports in a limited release of 120,000 cigars. The blend is composed of a Dominican and Nicaraguan filler surrounded by a Dominican binder and finished with a sungrown Dominican wrapper called Habano Vuelta Arriba, a tobacco that is presumably descended from that region in Cuba.

The Rarissimus was created in three sizes:

  • Corona – 6 3/8 x 46
  • Robusto – 5 7/8 x 52
  • Gordo- 4 7/8 x 60

I can only imagine what Francisco Fonseca would have thought of a gordo sized cigar.

Fonseca CXX 2

Construction Notes

The CXX Anniversary Corona is a rough looking customer with its mottled colorado maduro wrapper and pig-tail cap. The roll is solid, though on the surface it feels a little bumpy and lumpy. The head of the cigar is not particularly elegant, despite its pig-tail, but the cigar draws smoothly and burns beautifully. The ash is firm and a pleasantly dirty gray.

This rough looking parejo is not conventionally handsome, but it has character.

Tasting Notes

The Fonseca 120th Anni opens up with a moderate dash of black pepper, but this is quickly overtaken by the complex aroma of the cigar.  It reminds me of something like graham cracker, but with more cinnamon.  This is a medium-bodied cigar of equally moderate potency. At times the smoke seems a bit thin, but its flavor never wanes.

A caramel sweetness appears an inch or two into the cigar, supplanting the cinnamon and balancing out the mildly peppery sensation on the palate. The aroma continues to impress even without a dramatic transition.

The cigar settles into earthier territory at the conclusion but otherwise stays the course to its final destination.

Conclusion

The Rarissimus is a fitting tribute to the lasting legacy of Francisco Fonseca. True to the Fonseca tradition, it is a fairly mild cigar, but one with sophistication and finesse. Also true to the tradition is the price of this limited edition: around $5 US for the corona. That’s a remarkable price given the quality of the cigar, but that has always been the hallmark of Fonseca.

If you appreciate a quality medium-bodied cigar, don’t hesitate. I doubt these will be around for much longer.

Fonseca CXX 3

Final Score: 89

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.

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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.