Epicurean Gonzo Santeria

Epicurean Santeria

Most of what I know about Santeria I learned from the movies, which I admit is not the most accurate source of cultural information. Or any information, for that matter. Santeria is in fact a religion that combines elements of several faiths — Yoruba from Western Africa, Roman Catholicism, and Native Caribbean rituals and beliefs. The geographic center of the religion is acknowledged to be in Cuba, so it’s natural that a cigar take its name from this esoteric cult faith. Well, maybe not natural. Supernatural?

Santeria is also the second blend in the Gonzo line from Epicurean Cigars. (A Gonzo line is sort of like a Conga line, but crazier.)  This blend features a double shot of Mexican San Andres — an almost flawless maduro wrapper over another San Andres leaf serving as binder — which is then paired with another binder from Jalapa, and these hold in place a blend of 2009 Jalapa and Condega leaves. It’s a bewitching brew, and I wasn’t surprised to find that it smokes like one too.

Gonzo Santeria is a very limited production with only 150 50-count boxes made per size. And those sizes are:

  • Ruca – 5 x 42
  • Heina – 6 x 52
  • Padrino – 6 x 60

Epicurean Santeria 2

Construction Notes

Like the AG Azul, the Gonzo Santeria is remarkably well made. (The one I smoked for the review was the toro-sized Heina.) The head and shoulders of the cigar are about as clean and perfect as I’ve seen. The cap is tightly wound and finished with a pigtail that sits like a beanie on the top of the stick. The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro, a little bit drier than the Habano wrapper on the AG, but still quite attractive. The cigar has a slight box press. It burns slowly and evenly.

Overall construction: Outstanding.

Tasting Notes

Based on the appellation of the cigar I was expecting a feistier smoke. I figured if the Gonzo didn’t get me then the Santeria would, so I was a little surprised by the smooth medium-bodied opening. The flavor is is earthy to start — minerals and black powder — so there seems to be a family resemblance to the AG Azul. There are a few muted spicy notes, but it’s not at all what I was expecting. There is no harshness and no bite.

But as the old Monty Python sketch advises: wait for it.  A third to half-way into the cigar the pepper kicks in, and so does the Vitamin N. The aroma turns from earth to leather. The cigar gathers strength and the fiesta begins. Hope you remembered the hooch.

Finally there is the cocoa or chocolate, or whatever it is, that I was expecting from the San Andres wrapper and binder combo. At this point it hardly matters because I’m thoroughly satisfied anyway.

Epicurean Santeria 3

Conclusion

Another excellent cigar from Epicurean. As with the AG Azul, I can’t give this cigar a rating because I only smoked a single representative of the blend, but based on the outstanding construction quality I would be shocked if the cigar isn’t consistent across the board. Looks like there’s another one I’ll be going out of my way to find.

 

 

About these ads

Epicurean AG Azul

Epicurean Azul

Epicurean Cigars are small batch boutique cigars blended by Steven Ysidron, a veteran with Cuban roots who began his career with the Fuente family and Savinelli pipes and cigars in Italy and the Dominican Republic. In the late 1990’s Ysidron lit out on his own and began producing cigars in Nicaragua. All Epicurean cigars are aged for four years after rolling — this is pretty remarkable, given the way that most manufacturers observe the shortest rest time necessary in order to maximize profits. It’s always admirable when a cigar company, especially a small company, refuses to sacrifice quality for sales volume.

The initials in “AG Azul” are those of Ysidron’s grandfather, Armando Gutierrez. Since it is the time of year to honor fathers with neckties and fine cigars, I’ll start with this one. (Stay tuned for a review of Epicurean’s Gonzo Santeria.)  These are small batch cigars, so the composition of the blend can be expected to change. This blend is the 2008 version (rather than the 2007), which utilizes a sun grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Honduran binder, and filler leaf from Jalapa and Esteli. Five sizes are in production:

  • Trabajador – 5 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Petite Corona – 5.5 x 48
  • Justus – 6 x 60

Epicurean Azul 2

Construction Notes

This is a beauty of a cigar before it’s even out of the cellophane. The black and silver band is tasteful, and I always approve of a cedar sleeve. The wrapper is a slightly oily colorado maduro, and the cigar terminates in a nicely rounded head with a carefully crafted cap. The roll is solid, the draw is excellent, and it burns evenly. From outward appearances alone, this cigar is obviously the product of an experienced torcedor.

Overall construction: Outstanding

Tasting Notes

The AG Azul 2008 Toro starts up a bit tannic on the tip of the tongue. Soon the aromas of leather and wood dominate. As the smoke progresses, the aroma takes on more cedar punctuated periodically by an earthy sulfuric note, like black powder. The flavor is Cubanesque, but with a Nicaraguan accent. Both the body and the strength of the cigar are around medium, though the last stage of the smoke is stronger. It finishes up with black pepper and a pleasantly earthy aftertaste.

Epicurean Azul 3

Conclusion

A really excellent cigar. I’m unable to rate the AG Azul 2008 because I only smoked a single sample, but if the cigar is consistent from stick to stick this is going to be in the 90+ category  easily. At around $9 USD it’s a special occasion smoke for me, but very few cigars are made this well and smoke so smoothly. If you’re looking for a medium-bodied cigar with an earthy Cubanesque flavor profile, you can’t go wrong here. If you can’t find them at your B&M (an unlikely proposition for most) try the Cigar Federation Store.

Note: A review of Epicurean’s Gonzo Santeria is up next. I had intended to review both the AG Azul and Santeria in one post, but I can only cram so much gushing into a given space.

 

 

 

Ezra Zion FHK & Rodrigo Fortaleza

Ezra Zion FHK

Well, if it isn’t another San Andres Maduro cigar! Lucky for me, I can’t get enough of them. This entry is a recent blend from Ezra Zion, introduced last year at the annual IPCPR show. The initials stand for “Fathers of Hoover and Kelly,”  owners of the company. The FHK is in the company’s “Honor Series,” so naturally this cigar is made in tribute to those gentlemen.

Beneath the FHK’s alluring maduro capa lies an Indonesian binder and filler leaves from Brazil and Nicaragua. The cigar is rolled at the Plasencia factory in Nicaragua in four sizes:

  • 5.5 x 50 – “Inspired”
  • 7 x 44 – “Truth”
  • 7 x 54 – “Stature”
  • 6 x 52 – “Character” (Belicoso)

The lancero-sized “Truth” is a well-made and attractive cigar. The bands are appropriately elaborate for a tribute cigar, and they set off the rusticity of the maduro wrapper. The foot band peels off easily. The roll is firm, as is the draw, but this does not inhibit smoke production in the least. The head is nicely triple-wound and the cigar burns evenly for the most part.

The “Truth” opens smoothly with coffee flavors and a slightly sweet chocolate on the nose. (In this case, the Truth does not hurt.) The smoke texture is dense and chewy, a perfect accompaniment for the richness of the flavor. The centerpiece of this cigar is its wrapper, but the fillers provide an earthy and at times herbal foundation which blends well with the aroma. In the last third a moderate spiciness enters to keep things interesting.

Ezra Zion’s FHK lancero is smooth without being simplistic — it reminds me a little of the Emilio AF-1, perhaps with a little more complexity. A delicious smoke for lovers of San Andres Maduro, and for maduro smokers generally.

Rodrigo

Rodrigo Cigars began as a burning curiosity about the cigar-making process when George Rodriguez boarded a plane bound for the Dominican Republic in 2010. Soon that curiosity would blossom into a passion, a mission, and three cigar blends. (Rodriguez’s story is both funny and touching — check it out here.)

Based on the name of the blend I anticipated that the Rodrigo Fortaleza blend would be a powerful smoke, but I was surprised by its complexity.  Most cigars in this class lean heavily on the pepper and char and not much else can break through. Not so with the Fortaleza.

The Fortaleza features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Dominican binder and filler blend. Four sizes are in production:

  • 5 1/8 x 43 – “Absoluto”
  • 5 1/2 x 50 – “Forte”
  • 6 3/4 x 48 – “Elegante”
  • 6 x 50 – “Cinco”

The Ecuadorian wrapper is dark, darker than some maduros, and thick, with some prominent veins. It’s slightly weathered in appearance and the seams are boldly apparent. Between the name of the cigar (meaning fortress, or strength, or resolution) and its rough-hewn appearance, the “Forte” strikes a formidable pose. The pig-tail cap is a mark of careful execution and the cigar is otherwise firm, though a tad bumpy. The draw is excellent. The only flaw might be an uneven burn, but I would almost expect that from a tough guy like this one.

The initial burst of black pepper is nearly a foregone conclusion. “What did you expect?” it seems to ask. “Gardenias?” The pepper is accompanied by sweet charcoal on the nose and a long finish with an earthy aftertaste. But as the cigar burns the pepper dissipates and some surprises are unveiled. Cedar and coffee are unexpected guests. They’re like your favorite aunt showing up on poker night with a case of your favorite microbrew. Unexpected, but welcome.

The Forteleza’s strength (if I can put it that way) is still power, but it’s not a monotonous power. I’m not sure I could handle this in a churchill or toro size, but the robusto was a nice little punch in the gut, and it is surprisingly sophisticated.

Rodrigo 2

Ezra Zion’s FHK is a step up in strength from the Emilio AF-1, and Rodrigo’s Fortaleza gives the crank another turn. They’re all great cigars, but if I keep going in this direction I’m going to get myself in trouble. Next up will be something a little milder.