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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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