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

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El Suelo & Trocadero from L’Atelier

L'Atelier bundles

With the introduction of the El Suelo and Trocadero cigar lines, Pete Johnson said, “I want to show people that I can make a great inexpensive cigar.” This reflects poorly on the Tatuaje Series P cigar, a mixed-filler econo stick which has been around for years.  I suppose I agree — the Series P is not a great cigar, but it is inexpensive, and evidently people buy it.  But I’m not sure it’s deserving of the Tatuaje brand name. When I think Tatuaje or L’Atelier, I don’t think blue-collar yard ‘gar, but at least it’s a niche they haven’t filled yet.

Both El Suelo and Trocadero fall under the L’Atelier umbrella (rather than Tatuaje) and are made by the Garcia family — not at My Father, but at the “other” factory — the TACUBA factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. These appear to be sister blends, so I’m going to review them together. The bands are similar in design — very simple bands that recall the golden age of cigars, when men were men and cigar bands were not suitable for framing.

El Suelo and Trocadero are distinguished mostly by the wrapper leaf. The former is a swarthy fellow with an Habano Oscuro capa, while Trocadero utilizes a much lighter Habano Rosado. Both are Ecuadorian in origin, and both cigars use Connecticut broadleaf and Nicaraguan tobaccos for binder and filler. Their sizes differ a little bit though:

El Suelo:

Terreno 5 1/4 x 56
Prado 5 3/4 x 58
Campo 6 1/4 x 60

Trocadero:

Cambon: 5 1/4 x 52
Honore: 5 3/4 x 56
Montaigne: 6 1/4 x 60

El Suelo means “the ground” in Spanish, and the sizes are agricultural terms for types of fields (as far as I can tell).  Trocadero, on the other hand, is an area of Paris, and the frontmarks are Parisian street names. I’m not sure what the significance of Paris is, but I suppose it’s congruent with a company called L’Atelier.

Construction Notes

Both cigars are attractive and exhibit excellent construction. The Trocadero is dry with fine veins and a slightly toothy wrapper. El Suelo is also dry in appearance but much darker. The wrapper almost looks like broadleaf.  The cap of the Trocadero Terreno is not picture perfect, but still perfectly functional, and the tip of the Suelo belicoso is finely finished. Both cigars are solidly rolled and burn evenly.

Overal excellent construction, particularly for bundle cigars.

Trocadero

Tasting Notes

Both Trocadero and El Suelo are mild to medium in body and strength, but the Trocadero is a much more earthy and tannic cigar, while El Suelo is sweeter.

Both cigars have an astringent quality, but Trocadero is actually bitter on the palate. (I hesitate to use the word “bitter” but in this case I think it’s warranted.) As the cigar burns the flavors settle in the earthy range with a slightly minty aftertaste. The aroma is nice though — mildly floral with a pleasingly creamy aspect.

El Suelo steers away from earthy flavors and opts for familiar Nicaraguan territory: wood smoke. There is a burnt sugar or cotton candy-like overtone in the first half which is gradually overtaken by spice as the cigar burns to the band.  Notes of coffee and cocoa are prominent on the nose. This cigar reminds me a lot of the Carlos Torano Signature blend, which is of course more expensive than this bundle smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these L’Atelier blends are made exceedingly well, and I think they are better than Tatuaje’s current budget option, the Series P.  In the $3-4 range, they are certainly good value cigars, though the avid Tatuaje or L’Atelier adherent will no doubt be disappointed by a lack of complexity.

I was pleasantly surprised by El Suelo in particular. The Trocadero was a little too dry for me, but I’d be happy to have a few Suelos in the humidor. I know it’s not high praise exactly, but these are above average yard ‘gars.

El Suelo

Final Scores:

El Suelo: 87

Trocadero: 83

Gurkha Seduction Robusto

Recently I’ve noticed how often people misuse the word “notoriety.” As in the following, from advertising for a construction company:  “Erecting the steel on each these projects in a safe and efficient manner brought them notoriety on a national level.”  I certainly hope not. Notoriety is specifically negative attention. Notorious construction usually leads to protracted litigation, and that’s not the kind of attention you want to bring to your enterprise.

Which brings me to the subject of Gurkha cigars, a brand of great “notoriety.” Utter the word “Gurkha” in a room of seasoned cigar smokers and inevitably the muffled laughter and condescending remarks will follow. When a company sells a single cigar for $825 (the cognac-infused Gurkha HMR) this is to be expected. But Gurkha as a company has in fact been enormously successful and has continuously increased production. The company recently expanded its corporate headquarters, moving them from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, and currently produces cigars in five factories in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

If that’s “notoriety,” I guess they’ll take it.

Gurkha’s Seduction blend was released last year, along side the company’s other newcomers, Cellar Reserve and Royal Challenge. Seduction is made at the Cuevas factory in the Dominican Republic, and features an unusual three country blend. The wrapper is a dark Ecuadorian Habano, beneath which is a Dominican Olor binder. The filler is entirely Colombian Corojo.

As is customary with Gurkha, the box and the cigar bands are the brand’s best advertising tool. The Seduction box has a black velvet texture, almost like suede, and is hinged on both sides of the box so it can unfold in the middle. The bronze and parchment-colored bands stand out against the dark shade of the cigars. Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto 5 x 55
  • Toro 6 x 55
  • Churchill 7 x 55
  • XO 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The Seduction is not a maduro cigar, but the Ecuadorian Habano leaf that covers the cigar is consistently maduro in color. The wrapper is rough and slightly dry, and it smells like an abandoned barn. The roll is solid, and the cap is rounded and cuts cleanly. I’ve smoked a handful of these now and every one has been packed well and has drawn perfectly. The burn is mostly even. A couple cigars have shown rebellious tendencies, but these have been easily corrected.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

I have smoked a dozen of these robustos over the past 9 months, and I’ve noticed that the flavor spectrum changes over time. When fresh, the cigar is bright and sassy. (I would expect that a cigar named Seduction should always be smoked fresh, and should always be bright and sassy. Otherwise it might be called Dirty Old Man in the Park. And given the cavalier way in which cigars are named these days, I’m expecting to see a DOMP on the shelves any day now.)

But the aged Seduction is a much mellower cigar, opening with rich billows of chocolate and muted cedar. The smoke is aromatic, but too heavy to convey much subtlety. The cigar produces a prodigious amount of smoke and burns slowly. I put the cigar down for about ten minutes to do something in the house and fully expected having to re-light on my return. But the half-smoked Seduction was still smoldering.

There is still a touch of spice in the middle third, but this gradually diminishes until the flavors are more or less leathery with sweet chocolate overtones. There is a fruity note which adds some complexity. The combination of chocolate and jammy fruit makes it a great dessert cigar, especially when paired with a full-bodied coffee like 19 Bold from the 19 Coffee Company. (More on 19 in an upcoming post.)

By the mid-point of the cigar the flavors meld into a pleasant but mundane blend of dry wood and coffee, and from there it’s a casual coast to the finish line.

Conclusion

Gurkha may not have hit the ball out of the park with this one, but it’s a solid double. I really enjoy the fact that this is a full-bodied cigar that is only mild to medium in strength, so it can be smoked at pretty much any time of day. The cigar is also veritable smoke machine. You could probably smoke a gopher out of its hole with this one, except the gopher might steal your cigar.

Going price is around $7.00, and this is a retail exclusive. Try one now, and put one away for a few months.

Final Score: 88

Master by Carlos Torano

It was an eventful year for Toraño Cigars. First, the company recovered the distribution rights to their brands, which up to that time had been exercised by CAO. Around the same time they established the new Toraño Family Cigar Company, previously known as the Toraño Cigars. And finally they released three new blends: Brigade, the Single Region Jalapa Serie, and the Master by Carlos Toraño.

Ending the year with a masterful smoke seemed like a good plan, so I snapped up a few Master torpedos at Ye Olde Bee an’ Emm for what seemed like an awfully good price.

The Master is named for the master torcedor who is ever present at events on the Toraño “Roots Run Deep Tour,” Felipe Sosa. The cigar features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder from Esteli and Nicaraguan fillers from Esteli and Jalapa. Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6.25 x 52
  • Churchill 7 x 50
  • Toro 6 x 54

Construction Notes

This is obviously a very well rolled cigar, as the name implies. The wrapper is a little bit veiny, but the color is an even and attractive colorado maduro. The burn is a bit uneven at times, but this never amounts to more than an minor aesthetic issue. The draw is perfect, which makes up for any small flaws in appearance.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Master by Torano torpedo opens up dry with a touch of cocoa. It’s smooth and fairly light in body with an acidic kick — the kind of cigar that makes your mouth water a bit.

The mid-section continues in the same vein: high-toned. The cocoa flavors become a little more complex, developing into a richer coffee flavor, and the finish is earthy with a waxy aftertaste. The flavors remind me of a lightly roasted single origin coffee, the kind that loses its complexity with a dark roast but when lightly roasted is bright and original.

The last third exhibits a fruity aroma, with continued coffee and earth on the palate. The cigar remains smooth and flavorful to the band without muddying over.

Conclusion

The Master reminds me a little of another Torano cigar, the Noventa, with a few differences: it’s a bit heavier in body than the Noventa, but not quite as complex, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. The Master is not as sophisticated as I had hoped, but it’s smooth and flavorful.

In its favor is the price: the torpedos sell for only five dollars a stick. This cigar is not marketed as a value blend, but its affordability gives it a definite advantage over many cigars in the same price range. So far I haven’t factored price into my ratings, but cigars like this make me wonder if I should start.

Final Score: 88