Alec Bradley Black Market Robusto

In the wake of critical hits like Prensado and the Family Blend, the folks at Alec Bradley might be expected to kick back and bask in the glow of their well-deserved success. But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re back at work, inventing new cigars like the Fine and Rare (a blend of 10 different tobacco leaves) and this one, the Black Market.

“New” is a relative term, of course. These cigars were released last year, before Prensado took home the gold in the Cigar Aficionado rankings at the beginning of this year. Even so, I don’t think these guys are going to be sitting around on their laurels too long.

The Black Market is an unusual looking cigar from the start: it doesn’t appear to have a band. A gray sleeve covers the lower part of the cigar. When removed it reveals a standard size cigar band positioned in the middle of the stick. This is distinctive and appealing, but it raises fears that it might not be  easily removed. I was pleased to find that the wrapper is smooth enough and the band is glued with enough care that it slides easily toward the head of the cigar.

The Black Market is also a little unusual under the hood: this cigar is composed entirely of viso and ligero leaves. Usually a blend contains at least some seco leaf for balance and aroma, but not this one.

The wrapper is from the Jalapa Valley in Nicaragua, the binder is Sumatran, and the filler is from Panama and Honduras. The cigar is manufactured in Honduras in five sizes:

  • Robusto 5 1/4 x 52
  • Toro 6 x 50
  • Churchill 7 x 50
  • Torpedo 6 1/8 x 54
  • Gordo 6 x 60

Construction Notes

Slipping the sleeve from the shank of the cigar reveals a glossy dark colorado wrapper, so dark that it is almost maduro in shade. The leaf is a little veiny, but the oiliness of the leaf compensates for this minor detraction. The head is round and finished with a triple cap.

The roll is quite firm but the draw is good, and it burns evenly from first light to last ash. Which is smooth and solid, by the way.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The first flavors to emerge from the Black Market Robusto are the sweet woody notes of Aganorsa tobacco. I don’t know if that’s what this wrapper is, but if I had to guess, that’s what I’d say. What differentiates this cigar from the many other cigars utilizing this ever popular leaf is the lack of pepper. There is very little sharpness here. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the taste “round,” but the flavors are smooth, balanced, and distinguished enough that the pepper is not missed.

Mild coffee and chocolate flavors add to the mix after half an inch or so. The cigar’s body is decidedly in the medium range, remaining smooth and quite easy to smoke. The chocolate flavors are tempered a bit in the mid-section, leveling out to cocoa, with a touch of earthiness edging its way in. The aftertaste is clean and light.

The final section is a little more concentrated as the cocoa veers toward caramel and the earth becomes more pronounced. The aroma remains sweet and woody, and the cigar winds down with just a touch of char.

Conclusion

Alec Bradley’s Black Market Robusto is an unusual and intriguing blend because it offers many of the flavors associated with popular Nicaraguan-style cigars without the aggressive bite and acidity that affects so many of them. I’m curious if the seco-less composition has anything to do with this, or if it’s the Panamanian wild card.  Whatever it is, this is a smooth and flavorful cigar.

The flavors don’t transition too much, but the cigar is perfectly charming the way it is. The complex blend of sweet wood, coffee, and earthiness is enough to sustain the medium-bodied cigar smoker’s interest for 45 to 60 very pleasurable minutes. The MSRP is around $6-7 USD for the robusto, a pretty reasonable deal all around.

Final Score: 91

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Alec Bradley American Classic Robusto

A few months ago I had the opportunity to review La Gloria Cubana’s new “Artesanos Retro” cigar, and what I liked most about it was the Honduran Connecticut seed wrapper.  It’s a tasty leaf, so it’s easy to see why Alec Bradley has gone the same route with the American Classic Blend.

Alec Bradley has some experience with Honduran tobacco. Their big hits in the past couple of years (including an impressive No. 1 for the Prensado in Cigar Aficionado’s 2011 lineup) have been from the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras, so it’s not a huge surprise to see an unusual Honduran strain on the American Classic.

This blend was reportedly designed to mimic the style and evoke the flavors of cigars favored by Americans in the early part of the 20th century, when Tampa was King and cigars with double claro or candela wrappers were labeled “American Market Selection.” Wrapper shades darker than this were called “English Market Selection,” and the darkest cigars were called “Spanish Market Selection.” World markets and the tastes of smokers worldwide have obviously changed, but the American Classic Blend takes a step back in time.

Underneath the Honduran grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper lies a binder from Nicaragua and Nicaraguan filler leaves from both Esteli and Condega. Six sizes are in production:

  • Corona: 5 1/2 x 42
  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 50
  • Churchill: 7 x 48
  • Torpedo: 6 1/8 x 52
  • Gordo: 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the American Classic is somewhat dry and papery. It’s darker and more weathered in appearance than Connecticut Shade, and it seems a bit thinner. The rough texture of the binder shows through, giving the stick a slightly bumpy appearance. The cigar is finished in Cuban flat-head style with a triple wrapped cap.

Staring down the business end of this cigar I notice that the bunch appears to be partially booked. The draw was fine, however, and the cigar burned perfectly, so perhaps the evils of booked filler leaves are exaggerated. And like many other cigars using Connecticut Shade, this one left a solid light gray ash.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Alec Bradley American Classic starts up with a toasty flavor common to many mild-to-medium bodied cigars, but the spice on the nose sets this one apart from run-of-the-mill Connecticut Shade smokes. It has the perfume of Connecticut Shade, but it’s sharper and less flowery. It blends extremely well with the toasty and woody foundation flavors.

The mid-section brings a bready note as the spice on the nose dies down. The sweet spot here is almost exactly at the half-way point of the cigar, where the  cedar and bread flavors are delicately balanced and the result is delectable. Unfortunately these flavors dissipate around the two-thirds point and the smoke becomes a bit hot and burnt tasting. Maybe in my zeal for that bready note I was pulling a little too hard, but I deliberately slowed my pace while smoking the second cigar and had the same experience.

Conclusion

The American Classic has the mild and floral sweetness of a high quality Connecticut Shade cigar, but an added complexity that I found quite enjoyable. The combination of toast and bread and soft spicy cedar make it a great smoke to pair with a morning cup of coffee.

Most of us weren’t around for the days of “classic” American cigars, the days of Thomas Riley Marshall’s “good five cent cigar.”  (I shudder to think about what my grandfather would say about  a 15 dollar stogie.)  At around $4 USD this one is a bit pricier than Marshall’s budget smoke, but by today’s standards it is still a relatively good value. Give it a shot one of these sunny spring mornings.

Final Score: 87

Alec Bradley Family Blend D3 Robusto

Alec Bradley’s Family Blend stumbled into the spotlight in 2010 when it found a place on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 cigars of 2009. It was originally made in only one size — the VR1 Robusto — but in 2010 Alec Bradley announced the “birth of quadruplets,” and the line was expanded to a family of five in all. More recently a 6 x 60 was adopted, yet another indication of the childhood obesity problem in this country.

The Family Blend was created for the fathers of the company’s three principal executives, but a very attractive price point quickly made this family affair of great public interest. The stubby D3 earned 93 points and was labeled a “Best Buy” for 2010 by Cigar Aficionado. Any more accolades from CA might and a man might get suspicious.

Speaking of suspicious, I think AB could possibly learn something from Illusione’s Dion Giolito about how to name cigars. The names for the Family Blend vitolas are codes referring to “names and dates that are significant to certain family members.” That’s just dandy, but codes are not exactly consumer-friendly. I can barely remember my PIN when I go to the store, so I’m not going to remember if MX23 or BX2 is the toro or the double corona. Illusione cigars suffer from the same nomenclature problem, but Giolito has added a phrase to the number as a crutch for the mnemonically challenged. Granted, the phrase is as arcane as the code, but I can remember that “Necessary and Sufficient” is the churchill. But I can’t remember if it’s the 88 or 888 or 8/2 or whatever.

Anyway, here are the codes. You can either commit them to memory or write them down and keep them in your wallet.

  • D3 – 4 1/2 x 58
  • VR1 – 5 1/2 x 50
  • BX2 – 6 x 54
  • M23 – 7 x 50
  • T11 – 6 1/8 x 52 (Torpedo)
  • GS27 – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The D3 is a short and plump robusto with a dark and slightly rustic wrapper from Trojes, Honduras. AB seems to have the Trojes market cornered, which so far has turned out to be a very good thing for them. (The binder is Indonesian, and leaves from Honduras and Nicaragua comprise the filler.) The roll on this cigar is solid and the draw is excellent. The torcedors at Raices Cubanas in Danli are on a par with Pepin’s rollers in Esteli, as the cap on this cigar attests. The pig tail is discreet and the cap is perfectly triple or quadruple wound. (I fell down on the job with the pics for this one. I’m blaming the summer heat.)

The ash tends to flake a little but the burn was slow, a product of both the solid roll and the 58 ring gauge of the cigar.

Tasting Notes

The Family Blend D3 has a bright Nicaraguan taste similar to other cigars rolled at the Raices Cubanas factory, but it isn’t as robust as Illusione or Alec Bradley’s Tempus line. The flavor is woody with sweet cedary spice on the nose. There seem to be some other milder spices I can’t quite identify — nutmeg maybe — and a touch of pepper on the tongue. It’s medium bodied, but complex.

The flavor on the palate gets a little meatier in the second half and the aroma picks up sugary notes like caramel and cotton candy. The D3 has what I’d consider a Nicaraguan flavor profile, even though it is not Nicaraguan, and is much smoother and a bit sweeter than your typical Nicaraguan puro.

Conclusion

The Family Blend is yet another great line from Alec Bradley, and it’s nice to see them add a milder cigar to their portfolio. It has all of the sweet complexity that you’d expect from one of their Trojes blends, but it’s smooth and easy to smoke. The MSRP on the D3 is in the 5 to 6 dollar range, which is a good value in light of the cigar’s quality.

I’m not crazy about the ring gauge on this particular vitola, but my D3 experience was enough to fuel interest in other sizes. The cigars in this line run fat, unfortunately. I think I’ll have to try the relatively slim 50-ring robusto next. Which one is that? M23? BX2? Where is my decoder ring?

Final Score: 90

Alec Bradley Sun Grown Robusto

Alec Bradley’s Sun Grown cigar is distributed as a Famous Cigar private label, so there is limited information about it available. The distinguishing feature of the blend is a Mata Fina wrapper from the Bahia region of Brazil.

Mata Fina is a region in the Reconcavo Bahiana, the “bay area” of the state of Bahia. Much of this part of Brazil has been cleared of its natural forest over the years and secondary regrowth has taken place. “Mata Fina” is a farmer’s term for the type of regrowth, secondary forest, in this area. The climate and soil is excellent for tobacco cultivation — tropical weather with plenty of sun (though an average of 42 inches of rain annually) and sandy soil that provides good drainage. Tobacco farmers like to point out that Bahia is the same distance south of the equator that Cuba is north of it.

Tobacco is native to Brazil and was quickly adopted by early Dutch and Portuguese settlers. By the late 19th century it was one of Brazil’s leading exports, both in raw form and finished cigars. Brazil still produces a prodigious amount of tobacco (and a few blends of Brazilian puros) but the vast majority is now exported to major cigar manufacturers in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

All of the tobacco in Mata Fina is sun grown, which is part of the reason for its dark appearance. When mata fina is naturally cured it turns quite dark and can be mistaken for maduro, but the leaf is actually less robust, more refined and more highly aromatic than most maduro wrappers. Mata fina is most frequently used as wrapper leaf (which is hand-picked) but it can also be used as binder and filler (which is stalk cut.)

In addition to a Mata Fina wrapper, the Alec Bradley Sun Grown employs a Honduran binder and fillers from Nicaragua and Colombia. Three sizes are in production:

Churchill – 7 x 48
Robusto – 5 x 50
Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

I haven’t seen how the Alec Bradley Sun Grown is packaged (I picked up a five-pack from Famous), but they look box-pressed to me. The roll is a little bit soft and seems to have taken on some press. The wrapper is dark and rich in appearance, though every bit as rustic as you’d expect from a sun-grown leaf. The cap is purely functional. Actually, the stick seems to have been designed without aesthetics in mind at all — maybe after looking at the wrapper they just threw in the towel. The band, on the other hand, is gorgeous. The secondary “Sun Grown” band is probably unnecessary though.

The robusto burns quite well — straight, with an even draw, and a smooth light gray ash.

Overall construction very good.

Tasting Notes

The robusto starts up with a flare of sweet spice, but it’s not the explosion of pepper that is common to a lot of Nicaraguan cigars. It’s palate-tingling, but it’s more like the minty flavor found in  Cameroon. There is a mild bite on the tongue and the aroma is sweet and complex. I have a hard time distinguishing the scents on the nose at this point, but the base flavor is coffee and earth.

Cruising into the mid-section the smoke gets a bit smoother on the palate but remains spicy upstairs. As the flavors settle and coalesce there’s a hint of cherry over the continuing coffee and earth underneath.

The complexity of the cigar diminishes as the cigar burns into its final stage, concentrating on coffee, earth, and that minty or clove-like scent with which it opened. The coffee dwindles into a burned flavor and starts to turn bitter at the very end of the smoke.

(One of the three I’ve smoked so far was a dud. I’m going to count that one out of my assessment, but I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has had a similar experience. Maybe there was a bad leaf in there or something.  If anything it shows that you have to smoke more than one cigar (preferably several) before passing judgment on a blend.

Conclusion

I don’t usually expect much from large distributors’ exclusive cigars, but the Alec Bradley Sun Grown was a good one. The complexity of aromas that the mata fina wrapper contributes really distinguishes the cigar, and at a price around 5 USD it makes a great everyday smoke.

Pick up a five-pack and let me know what you think. (Strangely, buying four five-packs is significantly cheaper than buying a 20-count box. And it’s not like Kaizad Hansotia designed the box.)

Final Score: 89