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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Gurkha Cellar Reserve Prisoner

This year marks the quasquicentennial anniversary (that’s 125 years) of the Gurkha brand name, and Beach Cigar Group, the maker of Gurkha cigars, has marked the occasion by changing its name. The manufacturer of “the world’s most expensive cigar” is now the Gurkha Cigar Group. It’s a sensible name change, and for a company well versed in the subtle art of branding it seems a long time coming.

A few other changes have occurred at Gurkha in the past year — a new president and CEO is at the helm (Gary Hyams, formerly of CAO), and a new subsidiary brand was launched: East India Trading Company. And while the company still produces very high end “luxury” cigars like the cognac-infused His Majesty’s Reserve, they have renewed efforts to engage the unwashed masses, represented here by yours truly.

Three new blends released last year at the 2011 IPCPR were geared toward the retail market, and for the moment this one appears to still be a brick-and-mortar exclusive. The Gurkha Cellar Reserve utilizes a Criollo 98 wrapper, a Dominican Olor binder, and filler which includes 15 year-old Nicaraguan Criollo.

In line with the “cellar” theme, this cigar arrives in a box that is ribbed like a wine barrel. (I don’t always like Gurkha blends, but Hansotia’s baroque boxes are the best in the business.) The bands are just as odd and beautiful, though in this case the information is a little bit confusing.

The “blend strength” is labeled on the band as 97.6%. This inevitably prompts the question: 97.6% of what? I also have to admit some confusion at the “Dominican Puro” statement. The cigar is made in the Cuevas factory in the Dominican Republic, but according to Gurkha’s press release it is not a Dominican puro. Maybe it’s best to see the band as graphic art rather than a source of salient information. In any case, the Cellar Reserve is produced in five sizes:

Perfecto “Koi” – 4 x 58
Doble Robusto “Solaro” – 5 x 58
Gran Rothschild “Hedonism” – 6 x 58
Churchill “Prisoner” – 7 x 54
XO “Kraken” – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The Prisoner is, to my mind, more of a double corona than a churchill. This is a cannon of a cigar, and with its somewhat veiny and dark colorado maduro wrapper it’s a serious looking stick. The head is nicely formed. The cap is not a work of art but shears cleanly and does its job. The large band has the effect of minimizing the size of the cigar, or putting it into a different perspective somehow. Optical illusions aside, this is a good 1.5 to 2 hour smoke.

I’ve smoked five or six of these now and each one has shown excellent construction. The cigar feels a bit light in the hand, but that is no indication of its burning characteristics, which are generally slow, even, and cool. Each time I ashed this cigar it fell into the ashtray like a fat piece of chalk.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Prisoner starts up with a sweet grassy flavor but after a puff or two the oaky-vanilla aroma begins to remind me of the wine cellar theme of this cigar. The smoke is smooth but somewhat dry on the palate. After a minute or two the base flavor turns from sweet and grassy to roasted nuts.

After about twenty or thirty minutes the flavors begin to deepen without venturing into any new territory. The aftertaste grows slightly peppery, and the strength becomes more evident. The oaky-vanilla aroma is still the highlight of the cigar.

Into the third section the Prisoner is a consistent and straight-forward cigar without a lot of complexity. The aroma is very pleasant, and by the last third it delivers a pretty good kick. It starts to char near the band and after that becomes a little too sharp to smoke. But after 90 minutes I am ready to call it a night anyway.

Conclusion

Gurkha’s Cellar Reserve is an enjoyable cigar but it lacks the kind of complexity I was hoping for. I might smoke this one again in a smaller size because the flavors are good, but 90 minutes of plain ol’ good can still get a bit monotonous. The price is a little bit high for me as well — MSRP runs from $8 to $10 for this line. I was fortunate enough to recieve these samples from Gurkha, so I won’t complain about the price… but if I had to shell out the retail I might hesitate a little.

Final Score: 87