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

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Avo Heritage Robusto

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When the limited edition Avo Compañero was released in 2009, iconic spokesman Avo Uvezian declared it “the best blend ever released under my name from the Occidental Kelner Cigars factory in the Dominican Republic.” Avo lovers look forward to Uvezian’s annual limited edition releases, and the Companero seemed to garner more praise and excitement than many previous years’ entries. Most Avo cigars tend to be like Davidoff blends: milder, more subtle, and a little more “exclusive” than what is generally found in my humidor. But the Compañero stands out, with many calling it the strongest, if not the best Avo yet.

The Avo Heritage is based on the Compañero blend, perhaps inspired by the popularity of its proud progenitor, or perhaps to fill out the Avo portfolio with a heavier cigar. It uses the same wrapper leaf, a dark Ecuadorian Habano, and for punch the filler includes three different Dominican ligero leaves. The core of the cigar is buttressed with seco leaves from the Dominican Republic as well as Peru, and the bunch is bound with a San Vicente leaf, also from the DR. The cigar was released in the summer of 2010, and is available in four sizes:

  • Churchill: 6 3/4 x 48
  • Robusto: 4 7/8 x 50
  • Short Robusto: 4 x 56
  • Toro: 6 x 50

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Construction Notes

It’s safe to assume quality construction from this factory, and the Avo Heritage Robusto holds no surprises in that regard. The wrapper is a dark and smooth colorado maduro with a touch of oil. The head is finished with a simple but elegant single cap.  The roll is firm, the draw is effortless, and it burns with a slow and even disposition.

A well made cigar draws no attention to its behavior. In that respect this one is practically invisible.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Heritage robusto starts up with an herbal, grassy flavor overlaid with oak. There is a peppery aftertaste, and the finish is dry. A complex aroma with notes of vanilla, or even coconut, blends well with the earthier flavors on the palate.

As the cigar develops it picks up some maduro-like flavors: chocolate notes pop up amidst the grassy, mustier flavors. From the ad copy I was expecting a heavier cigar, but I found it to be medium in body and only slightly punchier than the Domaine Avo.

The last stage gives the pepper mill a few more cranks, but even with the spice and the char it remains balanced and smooth.

Conclusion

Avo’s Heritage Robusto is a fine cigar, though a little too dry and grassy for me. It’s smooth, it offers a complex aroma, and is rather affordable, for an Avo anyway — MSRP ranges around $7.00 USD per cigar.

The Heritage Robusto earned a nearly perfect construction score, and if you’re a fan of peppery Dominican cigars (and have exceptional taste) you’ll want to try this one. But given my dilatory posting habits, you probably already have.

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Final Score: 88

CAO Concert “Roadie”

The CAO cigar brand has changed hands, moved headquarters, and reinvented itself, but the label’s new directors haven’t forgotten where CAO started: Music City, USA. The CAO Concert was blended by Rick Rodriguez as a tribute to Nashville, Tennessee, CAO’s original home town.

The music theme of the Concert brand is apparent in almost every way: the box resembles a Marshall amp, the bands are designed to look like guitar picks from the front, the upper parts of a Fender Strat on the sides, and fretboards meeting in the back. (Wouldn’t a Telecaster have been better for Nashville?) The frontmarks are concert-related, and the cigar was even given a sneak preview release at the Country Music Association’s Music Festival last summer.

I will make an attempt to restrain myself from abusing the music theme in this review. I will not not hammer on harmony or refer to the cigar’s opening act. I will not speak of overtures, or codas, or cadences. Not a note of it, I swear.

The wrapper is an habano rosado leaf grown in Ecuador, the binder is Connecticut broadleaf, and four different leaves from Nicaragua and Honduras comprise the filler. The cigar is made in four sizes, all 5 1/2 inches in length:

  • Solo – 5 1/2 x 50
  • Stage – 5 1/2 x 60
  • Amp – 5 1/2 x 46
  • Roadie – 5 1/2 x 54

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the CAO Concert is dark, glossy, and almost veinless. Unfortunately, it is also very thin and prone to cracking. The head of the cigar is flat with wide shoulders. With a ring gauge of 54 this cigar is built like a fire plug. The draw ranged from easy to firm, and the burn was slow and even.

It’s an attractive cigar until the wrapper starts to crack at the back. The humidity where I live hovers around 10-15%, so desert shock might be the culprit, though that’s rarely a problem with other cigars. Like all of my other cigars, I stored these at 65%, but maybe the Concert requires a more tropical residence.

Overall construction very good, discounting for possible storage errors on my part.

Tasting Notes

The Roadie is a bit wide for my taste, but the flavors are smooth and well balanced. The cigar opens with cedar sweetness and a dusting of cayenne which quickly dissipates, leaving a medium-bodied base of coffee and some soft baking spices — cinnamon, mild clove, or maybe even sandalwood.

The second half of the cigar builds on the coffee base and adds a touch of musk. The aroma grows sharper, a bit spicier, but retains a lot of its sweetness. The Roadie stays balanced throughout, even while it transitions from light and sweet to darker and muskier flavors. It’s medium in body and easy to smoke. I didn’t notice any harshness at all and the cigar didn’t bitter at all until the very end, well after the second encore. (Damn. Almost made it.)

Conclusion

Conscientious and critical cigar smokers rarely get excited about medium-bodied cigars, but this is one that I would urge everyone to try. I was surprised at the complexity of this new CAO blend, and with its smooth demeanor and suave appearance, I highly recommend it. The Roadie is good for almost 90 minutes of tasty smoking, for which the $6.00 entry fee is a pittance.

I hope that the wrapper cracking was an environmental issue that won’t occur to many other smokers, because in every other respect it performed beautifully. The only thing that I would like to see changed is the design of the band. The little Stratocaster tips are easily bent and quickly become annoying. Maybe they’ll take up my suggestion and change it to a Telecaster, so there will be only one tip to tear off. Aside from that small complaint, this is a wang dang doodle of a cigar.

Final Score: 91

Vallejuelo Robusto

Vallejuelo is best known for its nomination as one of Cigar Aficionado’s Best Bargain cigars of 2010. The Robusto Gordo scored 93 points, along with CAO’s La Traviata Divino and La Aroma de Cuba Robusto. I do not subscribe wholeheartedly to CA’s opinion, but I respect it like any other opinion, and I’m always interested in a bargain. So I began my quest for Vallejuelo.

So I searched and searched in my local shops, made inquiries, but finally came up empty handed. Eventually I got distracted by other developments in the cigar world and the brand fell off my horizon.

A few weeks ago I was reminded by a reader about the Vallejuelo brand and while placing an order for some other things saw that Atlantic Cigar now carries them. They’re not expensive, and they fit in my shopping basket nicely.

Vallejuelo is made by Intercigar, a Dominican company established by Dutch cigar impresario Maurice Antonius Koks. Intercigar also makes a budget brand called Antonius, and judging from their website they also make private label cigars for independent retailers. Vallejuelo was originally designed for the Swiss market as a less expensive alternative to Cuban cigars. They are certainly less expensive. In other respects it’s setting the bar very high, but we’ll just have to see if they stand up to the Behike.

Vallejuelo features a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend of fillers, a Dominican binder, and an Habano wrapper grown in Ecuador. There appear to be four sizes in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Robusto Gordo – 5 x 54
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 54
  • Gordo – 6 x 60

The name “Vallejuelo” means small valley.

Construction Notes

Take the band off a Vallejuelo robusto and it might be confused for half a dozen other high-quality smokes featuring triple-wrapped heads. The wrapper is a dark golden brown with a nice sheen. Pressing the cigar reveals a hard pack with almost no give, but the draw is open and the cigar burns at a leisurely pace. The ash is slightly flaky, but it holds.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

This is a very much a Nicaraguan style cigar. It opens with a brash dose of black pepper and then mellows into an earthy, but somewhat sharp smoke.

After the initial spice of the Vallejuelo wears away, the mid-section slides into a potent mixture of earth and wood. The wrapper adds a note of cocoa and a touch of sweetness to the mix.

The finale of the cigar is a return to the first third as the pepper makes a brief comeback and the smoke gets down and dirty. I’d classify this cigar as medium in body but full in strength. It’s one of those cigars that throws me back in my chair like the guy in that old Maxell ad. Just sub in a lawn chair and put him in the back yard.

Conclusion

Vallejuelo is a tasty Nicaraguan-style cigar with a good thump. The robusto is a strong and earthy smoke with a subtle aroma, and that’s not easy to find in this price range. Its only flaw is some harshness that might fade a bit with age.

Is Vallejuelo a reasonable alternative to Cuban cigars? Not exactly. But at $4.00 a stick it’s a less expensive alternative to many of the high-end cigars coming out of Nicaragua these days. I’ll be looking for this one in a couple other sizes to see if I can get the same flavor at a slightly lower voltage level.

Final Score: 89

Macanudo Cru Royale Robusto

As much as I appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship that go into small “boutique” blended cigars, I can only imagine what blenders in small-time chinchales would do with the tobacco that General Cigar has at its disposal.

The huge libraries of leaf that large cigar manufacturers have available for blending not only gives blenders the opportunity to work with a wide-ranging palette of flavors, it also allows them to blend cigars that are consistent from year to year. While a veteran cigar smoker at his wife’s brother’s bachelor party is probably going to re-gift that present of a Macanudo, at least he knows that this year’s Mac is not going to be any different from last year’s Mac.

And that can be a very good thing, if last’s years Macanudo is what you’re game for.

But General has started to take the fun out of ribbing the Macanudo brand. The 1997 Vintage Maduro had crusty old ligero junkies taking a second look at the band, and the Macanudo Cru Royale seems to be doing the same.

Benji Menendez and Francisco Rodriguez have chosen an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper for the Macanudo Cru, along with a binder from General’s Vega Especial in the Dominican Republic. (This is the same binder used on the Partagas Black.) The filler blend is a combination of viso leaves from the Dominican and Nicaragua, bolstered by some Brazilian mata fina.

Four sizes are in production:

Lonsdale – 6.5 x 42
Robusto – 5 x 50
Toro – 6 x 54
Gigante – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The Macanudo Cru Royale could easily be mistaken for a maduro cigar. Not only is the wrapper leaf dark enough, it’s also rough enough to pass for Connecticut broadleaf. The head of the cigar is rounded, in typical Macanudo fashion, but the leaf is so thick that it looks more like the tip of a blackened sausage than the mild-mannered Macanudo we know and (sometimes) love. This leaf has clearly been chosen for reasons beyond the aesthetic.

But who needs looks with a personality like this? The roll is solid, the draw spot-on, and it burns without a second thought. Even the ash is attractive. What’s not to love?

Tasting Notes

The Cru Royale looks like a maduro, and it smokes like one too. The soft aroma of sweet chocolate wafts up from the foot of the cigar almost before it is lit. The flavors on the palate are somewhat dry, and surprisingly spicy — not Nicaraguan puro spicy, but certainly spicier than what you’d expect from a Macanudo.

After an inch or two the sweet savor of the chocolate turns noticeably sharper and more complex than the standard maduro. There is a note of hardwood and a mild acidic bite.

The coffee and cocoa bean flavors slowly turn to coffee at the cigar’s conclusion, and it finishes with some pepper on the tongue. Not enough to be called rough, but it’s not exactly creamy either.

Conclusion

The Macanudo Cru Royale is surprisingly aggressive for a Macanudo, but it stays well within the medium-body range and won’t challenge most delicate palates. Rookies graduating to medium-bodied cigars will enjoy the complexity of this smoke, and it won’t knock ‘em out.

I want to compare this cigar to the Macanudo Maduro Vintage 1997, but I’m not sure that is fair. The Cru Royale is considerably less expensive — in the 5 to 6 USD range — and is more of a standard line cigar. But they both came out at around the same time, so I can’t help myself. Not surprisingly, the Cru Royale is not as rich or complex as the Vintage ’97. But it’s still a very interesting cigar, especially for a Mac.

Final Score: 86

Carlos Torano Master BFC

Large ring gauge cigars have always been popular, at least as long as I can remember, but it’s only recently that the gargantuan ring gauges — 60 or more — have caught on. I reviewed the Toraño Master Torpedo at the end of last year, but since then this 6 x 60 monster has been released. I shy away from super huge ring gauges, but since the Master is a fairly mellow fellow I thought I’d give it a shot. Here are the basics:

  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
  • Binder: Nicaraguan (Esteli)
  • Filler: Nicaraguan (Esteli and Jalapa)

BFC stands for Breakfast For Cigarfan. Okay, maybe not. But I do think this is a fantastic morning smoke — smooth, flavorful, and easy going.

Construction Notes

The wrapper is a dark golden brown with a nice sheen, and the cigar is perfectly rolled. Gazing at the cut face after clipping, it looks like it could be packed too firmly, but a pre-light test draw dispels that impression. It draws quite easily and despite its girth it lights easily as well. The ash is solid and the burn is slow, as it should be when a cigar has a nearly one-inch diameter.

The only issue I had was the wrapper cracking, but I suspect this may be due to shipping and rapid humidity changes. I haven’t had this problem with the Master in other sizes.

Tasting Notes

Up front there is a nice melding of cocoa and cedar. The wrapper on this cigar has excellent aromatic qualities, resulting in a complex of mild spices on the nose. The woody core of the cigar is typical of milder Nicaraguan blends. There is also a honey-like sweetness in the mix.

The BFC shows some development as it enters the middle section, though it isn’t very dramatic. The cedar on the nose is still present but is bolstered by bean flavors — cocoa and coffee with cream.

This oversized nice guy skates into the last lap with some caramel on the palate and lots of mellow medium-bodied smoke. The honey flavors from the first section linger and blend well with the cocoa and coffee, though the sweetness has more of a caramel than a honey character in the final inch.

Conclusion

The basic characteristics of the Master BFC are the same as the other sizes that I’ve tried — this is a smooth and medium-bodied cigar with a complex aroma. Like the Torpedo, this one reminds me a lot of Toraño’s super-premium Noventa, the difference being a little more body and a little less complexity. (And of course, a lower MSRP.) If anything, the Master BFC seems even smoother than the Torpedo, which is pretty buttery to begin with.

This blend is really starting to grow on me, but I will probably opt for the smaller ring gauges in the future. On the other hand, if you dig the big boys and smoke in the medium-body range, you’ll have to check this one out. The very reasonable price might be the deciding factor here: 6 to 7 USD. That’s a lot of cigar for seven bucks.


Final Score: 90

Brick House Robusto

The latest trend for cigar manufacturers is to resurrect extinct Cuban brand names, no matter how unusual, and slap them on their latest blend. (CAO’s La Traviata, for example.) The Newman family, on the other hand, has been sitting on an old Cuban brand name of their own for half a dozen decades. And instead of being unusual, it’s pretty mundane: Brick House. The original Brick House brand honored patriarch J.C. Newman’s Hungarian heritage by depicting his home in the old country, a home that reportedly doubled as the town’s tavern. Sounds like a rockin’ place.

The first incarnation of Brick House was released in 1937 as a “clear Havana,” a cigar made in the United States from imported Cuban leaf. The new blend released in 2009 is a Nicaraguan cigar with what I assume is a proprietary wrapper leaf called “Havana Subido,” ™ a sun grown Ecuadorian Habano. Like the Newmans’ El Baton, Brick House is made by Tabacos San Rafael in Totogalpa, Nicaragua. (On the map it looks like Totogalpa is right next door to Esteli, which mitigates the surprise.)

Four sizes are currently in production:

  • Churchill – 7.25 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona Larga – 6.25 x 46
  • Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Brick House Robusto is a nice looking stick with a ruddy colorado maduro wrapper. It doesn’t glisten exactly, but it exhibits more shine than is typical on sun-grown wrapper leaf. The cigar is well built with a nicely finished cap. One sample was visibly underfilled at the foot, causing a very loose draw. I was surprised to find that this did not promote a fast burn — the burn wasn’t slow either, but it didn’t burn fast and hot the way I feared. The burn was a little uneven, but it corrected itself, and the ash was long and firm.

Overall good construction.

Tasting Notes

The Brick House Robusto smokes like a classic medium-bodied Nicaraguan — woody with a sweet spicy aroma. The smoke is smooth from the start as it opens with mildly spicy cedar and a dash of salt. After half an inch or so a cocoa flavor presents itself, but without the bite that often accompanies heavier Nicaraguan blends.

Some black pepper shows up on the palate in the middle section, but it’s fairly mild. The smoke is still medium-bodied and the texture is smooth. The finish is slightly dry.

The last third is meatier and has more zing. It edges into the full side of medium at this point, but remains well balanced. The aroma is sweet and cedary, blending well with the darker grilled flavors on the tongue. The cocoa fades a bit at this point and disappears as the spice takes over at the band.

Conclusion

The Brick House is far more approachable than many brawnier Nicaraguans, but it shares the flavor palette that has made Nicaraguan cigar tobacco so popular in the last few years — cocoa, black pepper, and cedary spice in a balanced combination.

The other significant difference between Brick House and the competing array of bigger-boned Nicaraguan cigars is the price. The Newmans have priced this cigar economically at around 5 USD retail, and have instituted price protection to prevent Internet discounters from undercutting local brick-and-mortar shops. This is great news for both smokers and tobacconists, because this is a really decent smoke for a very reasonable price. And these days you can’t ask for much more than that.

Final Score: 88

La Traviata by CAO

La Traviata is the Top 25 cigar that didn’t make the cut. So many people noticed that this cigar wasn’t on Cigar Aficionado’s “best of” roster for 2009 that it was thought to be an oversight. The objections were so widespread that CA issued an explanation: the new CAO blend was released too late in the year to be eligible for inclusion in their list. This is how you get attention by being overlooked.

So it’s safe to say that a whole lot of people have been digging this cigar. I finally found a couple boxes at the tribal smoke shop and grabbed a handful for “analysis.”

La Traviata is an old Cuban brand name and an even older Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The opera tells the tragic tale of a consumptive courtesan (la traviata literally means a “strayed woman”) who falls in love, with somewhat predictable consequences.  The first production of the opera was a failure in part because the woman playing the courtesan was hardly consumptive — she was in fact obese — and a close examination of the woman on an old box of Cuban La Traviata reveals a similar misconception. It would appear that the cigar and the opera share little aside from the name.

But the folks at CAO wanted to “harken back” to the era of pre-nationalization Cuba with this blend, so the name fits. On the other hand, I’m a little skeptical that it’s possible to replicate the flavor profile of a late 19th century cigar. (Maybe they have some seriously aged cigar blenders swimming in the factory’s Cocoon pool.)

The cigar features an oily Ecuadorian Habano leaf wrapped around a Cameroon binder and filler comprised of ligero from both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The blend was released late last year in three parejo sizes, and two more have just been announced: a corona gorda and the first figurado for the line, a petite belicoso.

  • Divino – 5 x 50
  • Radiante – 6 x 52
  • Intrepido – 7 x 54
  • Animado – 5 5/8 x 46
  • Favorito – 5 1/2 x 52  (belicoso)

For this review I smoked the robusto-sized Divino, with samples drawn from two different boxes.

Construction Notes

The wrappers on these sticks are thick and oily, though the texture seems to vary from smooth to quite grainy. The color is a very dark colorado maduro, or perhaps even straight maduro. Veins are prominent but not unsightly, and the head is a little irregular but solid. The cap is pasted on, not wound, but shears away nicely.

The roll is rock solid to the touch but the draw is excellent. The ash is solid and the burn is even. All this cigar lacks is the perfect Cuban-style triple cap. Other than that, there’s really nothing to complain about here.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

A hard woody flavor combined with a peppery overtone opens this cigar. The smoke is smooth, but a tad tannic on the palate. The sweet spicy aroma reminds me a little of hickory, similar to what I find in Illusione Original Document and other cigars that utilize Aganorsa Nicaraguan tobaccos. The flavor here is not quite as clean as that, but it’s bright and tasty.

The tannins even out in the middle section but never disappear entirely. The foundation flavor remains woody, at times veering to leather. Light caramel-coffee flavors and notes of malt show up in the aroma.

Up to this point I found little to substantiate the Cubanesque aspirations of La Traviata, but in the last third I did find a fleeting muskiness reminiscent of cuban cigars. It didn’t last long, but for those last few puffs about half an inch from the band I could have been fooled. Unfortunately the flavor becomes a little dirty after this point, somewhat carbonized and burnt tasting, but this is after a very eventful three quarters.

Conclusion

Now I understand what the rumpus is all about. This is a dandy smoke. La Traviata is medium to full in body with a rich and complex woody flavor that finishes up with leather and a momentary glimpse of the forbidden isle. All of the cigars I’ve smoked from this line have had rock solid construction and burn beautifully.

But wait! There’s more! CAO has set the price point for La Traviata alluringly low, right around 5 USD per stick for the Divino. I can think of many cigars in the 10 dollar range that pale by comparison to this smoke.  This could be the best buy of the year, and for what it’s worth, I think it’s the best blend CAO is making right now.

Final Score: 90