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

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Guayacan Torpedo

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Guayacan is a boutique cigar created by Noel Rojas and distributed by Emilio Cigars. Rojas has a familiar story — a Cuban immigrant with a background in agriculture and the cigar industry. He eventually got fed up with the Cuban government and found a way to ply his trade in the U.S. Now, why the name Guayacan?

Evidently Rojas carved sculptures from guayacan wood for tourists in Cuba (see Brian Hewitt’s Stogie Review for the full story.) Guayacan is a shrub native to the tropics and subtropics. It is drought resistant due to its deep taproot, and in severe winters the shrub can freeze to the ground and grow back from its roots in the spring. (I doubt this happens too often in Cuba, but it does in Texas.) The wood of the guayacan shrub is supposedly one of the hardest measured by the Janka hardness test, a measure of suitability for wood flooring.

Guayacan is tough stuff, and to carve it must take some skill. Making it in the cigar trade isn’t so easy either, but it looks like Rojas has the determination to do it.

The Guayacan cigar was originally released in four sizes, at which time each size used a slightly different blend. Rojas standardized the blend in 2012 after noting the popularity of the torpedo blend, and he now uses that blend for all of the various sizes. The binder and filler are 98 Corojo of the famous Aganorsa variety, and the cigar is topped off with a habano wrapper from Ecuador. Guayacan is made in Esteli, Nicaragua and is available in four sizes:

  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 52
  • Torpedo: 6 1/8 x 52
  • Churchill: 7 x 50 (box-pressed)

Construction Notes

Guayacan is a well built cigar, but it is admittedly a little rough-hewn. (Perhaps this is another reason for its name.) The wrapper has a reddish cast to it and it has a few thick veins. The roll is firm albeit a bit bumpy, and the torpedo tip is expertly finished. The wrapper burns with some reluctance, but after the first half inch or so it pulls itself together.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

I smoked two torpedoes for this review and while I enjoyed both, one was spectacular and the other was just pretty good. The base flavors are earthy and the aromatics are mainly wood with a little leather thrown in. The first cigar was much more expressive, for whatever reason. (The cigars were received at the same time and were stored identically.)

The cigar does not develop too much from the beginning to the end of the smoke, but its pleasant complexity keeps things interesting for the duration. There is less sweetness and more spice toward the finale, but it never becomes overwhelming and stays evenly balanced.

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Conclusion

Guayacan is truly a boutique cigar, and one that is still in the early stages of development, so some inconsistency is to be expected. As long as the inconsistency varies from good to great, I see no room for complaint. I really enjoyed the sweet woody aromatics of this medium-bodied torpedo. MSRP is in the $6 USD range. You might score a great cigar, or a merely very good one. At that price you win either way.

Final Score: 89

CyB Robusto Deluxe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEveryone knew that when Jose Blanco joined the Joya de Nicaragua team that something interesting would happen. Mr. Blanco is well known to cigar fans and bloggers from his time at La Aurora, and his blending seminars have acquired a reputation approaching legendary. It didn’t take long before a blend with Blanco’s stamp was released from the company, with the assistance of Joya de Nicaragua President Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca.

The name of the cigar was, naturally, Cuenca y Blanco. The name was shortly thereafter abbreviated to CyB in order to avoid confusion with other cigar brands (and to avoid potential legal hassles). The blend remains the same, even after the name change in October 2012: filler leaves from both Esteli, Nicaragua and Ometepe, Nicaragua, plus a little viso from Peru; a piloto cubano binder from Blanco’s own Dominican Republic; and an Ecuadorian habano wrapper.

Five sizes are made at the Joya de Nicaragua facility in Esteli:

  • Corona Real: 5.50 x 46
  • Robusto Deluxe: 5.25 x 50
  • Lonsdale Club: 6.5 x 44
  • Toro Supremo: 6 x 54
  • Torpedo Especial: 6.25 x 52

Construction Notes

The CyB robusto is a solid stick with a dark, slightly dry wrapper. Peering down the business end of the cigar I can see there is one dark leaf swirled into the bunch. The head of the cigar is wrapped well and finished with a single cap. The cigar has a firm, even draw (maybe a little too firm) and burns evenly.

Overall construction: Very good.

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Tasting Notes

The CyB is a medium-bodied cigar with great balance. The flavors on the palate are somewhat dry, with citric acidity and earthiness taking center stage. A mild saltiness is balanced by increasing spice as the smoke progresses to the end.

The aromatic qualities of the robusto are excellent. I love the scent of wood smoke, and there’s plenty of that here. There is a muted sweetness as well, though I can’t really put my finger on what it smells like. Whatever it is, it blends nicely with the earth and acidity on the tongue.

Conclusion

The reviews for the CyB lonsdale have been absolutely raving, so I was primed with expectation for an explosion of flavor from this cigar. But this may be a good example of how the size of a cigar can affect the blend and the overall flavor of a smoke.  I would not call the robusto “explosive,” but rather a reserved, well-balanced and flavorful cigar. It is also a bit on the dry side. I especially enjoyed the nuances on the nose, despite my inability to articulate what those specific subtleties are. I’ll just have to keep working on it.

The CyB Robusto retails in the $7-8 USD range. Try it if you dig earthy and citric flavors in a medium-bodied package.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinal Score: 88

El Rey de Los Habanos Toro

Rey de Los Habanos

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.

Don Pepin Red Label

Construction Notes

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.

Tasting Notes

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.

Conclusion

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.

ERDLH Red Label

1502 Ruby Toro

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1502 cigars are named for the year that Christopher Columbus first explored Nicaragua and claimed the territory from Honduras to Costa Rica for Spain. Within a few years of Columbus’s “discovery,” most of present-day Mexico and Central America would be subsumed under the formal title Viceroyalty of New Spain. At its greatest expanse, in the late 18th century, this territory would include most of western North America as well. It’s a little ironic then that it’s hard to find the 1502 cigar anywhere in this area (unless you are lucky enough to be in Esteli, Nicaragua where the 1502 is made.)

But that is the nature of boutique cigars. If you can find one in every corner smoke shop, it ain’t boutique.

The brand is owned by Enrique Sanchez Icaza of Global Premium cigars, and while distribution seems to be restricted to the Eastern U.S., the company entered into a distribution agreement with Emilio Cigars late last year, and that may improve availability.

Precise data on this cigar is also hard to come by. What is known is that there are three blends of 1502 — Emerald, the lightest of the bunch; Ruby, with an Ecuadorian wrapper; and Black Gold, the heaviest blend, with a sun-grown maduro wrapper. Three sizes appear to be made: Robusto, Toro, and Torpedo, though I don’t have measurements on those either.

As Columbus once said, “Nevermind the details. Anchors aweigh!”

1502 Ruby

Construction Notes

The 1502 Ruby Toro is a box pressed parejo with an attractive colorado maduro wrapper. There are some fine veins, but the wrapper is smooth and the roll is supple. There are a few small irregularities in the bunch, a couple of barely noticeable dents, but nothing that would turn up in a casual inspection. The cap is integrated well and shears away nicely.

The Ruby burns very well, especially for a box pressed cigar, and the ash is firm. The draw is easy and the smoke volume generous.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Ruby Toro has all the characteristics of a good Nicaraguan cigar — there is some pepper up front and an acidic, mouth-watering quality that is typical of Nicaraguan tobacco. The aroma is sweet and woody. As the cigar develops, a fruity note rises up that is somewhat like cherry. To me it’s reminiscent of Tatuaje’s La Riqueza blend, which is surprising because La Riqueza uses a completely different kind of wrapper (Connecticut broadleaf).

In the middle section of the cigar there are notes of coffee and cocoa and the spicier aspects of the cigar tone down a bit, only to return in the last third. The smoke is medium in body, and about medium in strength as well. The woody notes become earthier as the cigar winds down, but the cherry note in the aroma lingers. I frequently find that by the end of a cigar the palate flavors overwhelm the aroma, but the 1502 Ruby is really well balanced in that respect.

Conclusion

The 1502 Ruby shows restraint and finesse, which is usually not Nicaragua’s strong suit. A lot of Nicaraguan cigars emphasize the explosive factor of that nation’s tobacco, and it often results in an unbalanced flavor spectrum and a shell-shocked palate. The Ruby showcases the classic Nicaraguan cigar flavors — wood, pepper, and citric acidity — in a less boisterous, but still flavorful way. And I especially like the cherry note in the aroma.

It looks like the going price for these is in the $6 USD range, which is quite reasonable given the quality of the cigar. The only problem for me, as a denizen of the desert southwest, will be sourcing them locally. With any luck we’ll see wider distribution soon.

1502 Ruby

Final Score: 90

Trinidad Paradox Toro

Trinidad Paradox Toro

Cigar giant Altadis USA managed to sneak in this extension to the well respected Trinidad line last year: Trinidad Paradox, a medium to full bodied blend with a Mexican Criollo 98 wrapper. I tend to shy away from Mexican tobacco, but I will usually make an exception for leaf grown in the San Andres area, and this is one of those instances.

The binder is a Dominican piloto leaf, with filler from Nicaragua, and — gulp — more of the dreaded Mexican. The cigar is box pressed and presented in odd, but attractively lacquered rhomboid boxes of 16. I guess that fits in with the Paradox allusion.

According to a very short blurb in Cigar Insider, the “paradox” is the “combination of modern tastes and traditional cigar-making.” But is that really a paradox? I thought that was just the way cigars are made today. Then again, I am perpetually mystified by cigar companies’ marketing strategies, so maybe “paradox” is more revealing than it appears at first glance.

Trinidad Paradox is made in the colossal Tabacalera de Garcia factory in the Dominican Republic, and it is available in four sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 57
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52

Construction Notes

The Criollo wrapper on the Paradox is a dry colorado claro, but the leaf is consistent in color and not overly rustic. The stick is finished with the typical Altadis “Cullman” style rounded head and a functional cap. This cigar is box pressed, but even so it is a little soft to the touch. This hardly matters, since the draw is consistently good and it burns evenly.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Paradox cigar

Tasting Notes

Trinidad Paradox is billed as a medium-to-full bodied cigar, but I think it is probably more in the middle of the range. It starts up with a mild cocoa and brown sugar flavor. In the first part of the cigar there is an underlying earthy flavor that grows slightly musty, but in a pleasant way.

The cigar picks up some black pepper as the ash grows longer, but compared to some of the cigars coming out of Esteli these days it can hardly be called “spicy.” The pepper blends nicely with the other flavors, which continue to provide depth and complexity. The aroma remains sweet and slightly pungent, despite the continuing notes of cocoa and coffee.

The toro seems to wind up a bit prematurely, a half-inch above the band, but my enthusiasm for the cigar might have inspired me to puff a little too frequently. It starts to char at this point, and that is my signal to put the butt to bed.

Conclusion

Serious cigar enthusiasts often pass over cigars from huge cigar conglomerates like Altadis USA. I guess those of us in search of the perfect cigar experience expect mediocrity from the mainstream, and that expectation is frequently warranted. Nor is this phenomenon unique to cigar smokers — haute cuisine, fine wine, and nearly every other specialized subset of aficionado has its share of snobs. I’ve been guilty of snobbery, I admit. But I try to be fair.

I’m glad I gave this cigar a chance. Even though it uses Mexican leaf, and even though it is made in the world’s largest cigar factory, Trinidad Paradox is a very respectable smoke. The flavors are nicely balanced and complex for a medium-bodied cigar. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range. Bigger is not often better, but this Altadis USA blend rates a look.

Paradox

Final Score: 89

Asylum 13 Fifty

Asylum 13

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Camacho was acquired by Davidoff, but it’s true. And while Davidoff has managed to keep the sticks rolling out of the factory in an almost seamless manner, the intervening years have provided new opportunities for Christian Eiroa. Asylum and Asylum 13 are some of the results.

Asylum Cigars are a joint venture of Kevin Baxter and Tom Lazuka, who were later joined by Christian Eiroa. Eiroa formed Tabacaleras Unidas last year as the parent company for several brands including his own CLE and CLE Cuarenta brands, and it appears that Baxter and Lazuka have, well, taken Asylum there.

Asylum Cigars are rolled in the old Tabacos Rancho Jamastran factory in Honduras, a familiar name to Camacho fans. The Asylum 13 is a Nicaraguan puro featuring a dark habano wrapper. The cigar is made in four gobstopping sizes, with the 50-ring Fifty being the runt of the litter.

  • Fifty – 5 x 50
  • Sixty (double toro) – 6 x 60
  • Seventy (double churchill) – 7 x 70
  • Ogre (barber pole) – 7 x 70

Asylum 13

Construction Notes

The Asylum 13 has a slighly oily maduro wrapper that appears quite smooth despite a few prominent veins. The cigar is solidly packed but draws very easily. The burn is even and the ash holds well.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

This is a fairly boisterous cigar from the first few puffs to the last. It introduces itself with a potent dose of red pepper and a strong, almost stinging, woody aroma. After an inch or so the spiciness wanes enough to detect more subtle flavors — some earthiness comes through to complement the woody flavors, and there is coffee or cocoa on the nose. A touch of anise appears at times, but fleetingly.

The smoke texture is medium to full in body, but this full-flavored cigar is a brawler from the start. I’ve read a few reviews that state the larger sizes are even stronger, so I think I’ll be sticking with the 50.

Conclusion

One of my favorite cigars from the old Camacho days was the Diploma, but I rarely smoked it because it would invariably leave me on the floor. The Asylum 13 isn’t quite that heavy (nor is it quite as complex) but it’s still a tasty cigar with excellent construction. I hope to find similar flavors in the non-13 Asylum, perhaps with a little less power and a little more complexity.

Judging by the box counts, Asylum 13 is geared for brick-and-mortar sales. The Fifty and Sixty are sold in boxes of 50 cigars, and the Seventy and Ogre are available in boxes of 30. I picked up the Fifty for around $5.00 a stick, which is pretty economical for a boutique smoke.

Asylum 13

Final Score: 88