T. L. Johnson Tempio Extreme Box Press

I hadn’t heard of T. L. Johnson Cigars before, but I have heard of one of their brands — Jose Dominguez. In addition to this one, Johnson produces Palma cigars as well as three distinct lines under the T. L. Johnson brand name: the Legend Reserve Reserve 63, and the Signature line in Connecticut and Maduro. The company is located in Colorado, and it looks like their cigars are distributed primarily in-state.

Tempio is, I believe, their newest line, and since it is produced by one of my favorite boutique manufacturers – La Tradicion Cubana – I was itching to give it a go.

Tempio utilizes a Pennsylvania wrapper leaf (like the JML 1902) in conjunction with an habano binder and Dominican filler. The cigar is made in four sizes:

No. 50 (Robusto) — 5 x 50
No. 52 (Torpedo) — 5 1/2 x 52
No. 56 (Toro) — 5 1/4 x 56
No. 54 (Churchill) — 6 3/4 x 54

Construction Notes

If it weren’t for the sloping shoulders and tightly wound pig-tail cap of the Tempio, I’d say this cigar looks like a carpenter’s pencil. A big one. Maybe the right size for Shaq if he adds cabinetry to his career profile. The corners are clean and form tight right angles that relax a little as the cigar burns.

The colorado maduro wrapper is smooth but leathery in appearance. The veins appear to have been pressed into the leaf, so it looks rustic but doesn’t feel that way to the touch. The draw offers the right amount of resistance, and the burn is surprisingly even for a square pressed stick. The ash is a little bit flaky on the perimeter but holds strong.

Overall Construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Tempio focuses on a cedar flavor throughout the smoke, but it starts up with some unusual scents that are hard to place. There is a peppery spiciness on the tongue that fades pretty quickly, but the most interesting aspect of the first third are the fleeting sweet spicy notes in the aroma. There seems to be something vaguely fruity about the aroma, but not in a light way — it’s a spicy fruitiness that reminds me a little of the scent of mulled wine.

The spice loses some of that interesting sweetness in the mid-section, but it remains sweet in a more conventional way. There is less of a cedar flavor and the smoke becomes a little smoother. The smoke is medium in body, and probably a touch heavier than that in strength. There is a dry papery tartness in the aftertaste.

The last third reintroduces the pepperiness as the flavors begin to char, but even in the last few puffs some sweetness lingers.

Conclusion

I love the complexity of flavors that the Pennsylvania wrapper contributes to the Tempio, and the overall performance of the cigar is very good as well. It’s a balanced with just the right amount of spice, and it’s never boring.  In fact it’s a little bit edgy, which I think gives it some aging potential.

The MSRP on this cigar is about as bold as its flavors — around $11.00. I’d like to see that price drop a bit, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the stick. The biggest challenge will be locating a Tempio for purchase. It looks like there is at least one online vendor, or if you are lucky enough to live in Colorado, check out the T. L. Johnson website for retail locations.

Final Score: 90

About these ads

La Tradicion Cubana Chulo

La Tradicion Cubana’s Chulo cigar is the perfecto in their figurado series. Other formats in the series are a Culebras, a huge 8 1/2 by 96 Great Pyramid, and the Reed, a toro-sized cigar with a head shaped like the bit on a clarinet (similar to La Flor Dominicana’s Chisel.) There is also a limited box pressed cigar called Teclas which comes packaged in a box shaped like a piano.

Talk about showmanship! With its two-toned appearance and shapely figure, it’s almost a shame to put the Chulo to the flame, and I find myself torn… To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to keep a cigar as a museum piece, or to take up matches, and by smoking, ash it… But there’s nothing rotten in Denmark here, or in the Dominican Republic for that matter. In addition to its exotic appearance, the Chulo is also a fine tasting smoke.

The 5 x 54 Chulo (which means something like “cutie”) is available in two wrappers — a natural Ecuadorian and a Brazilian maduro, but the extremities of the cigars are wrapped in the opposite shade. I found that I had to clip most of the natural wrapper off the tip of the maduros I smoked, but the flavor of the Ecuadorian leaf at the foot was detectable for a few brief moments after lighting the cigar.

Construction Notes

The craftsmanship that goes into creating this little zeppelin is apparent at first glance. The dry but dark maduro wrapper creates a striking contrast against the natural leaf at the foot and head of the cigar. Both ends of the Chulo are finely finished.

The roll is solid and the draw is good, though to achieve this it is sometimes necessary to cut a little further down — all the way to the boundary of the maduro leaf — than seems optimal. They burn evenly and need to be ashed only once or twice.

My only criticism is that the cigar gets a bit hot in the last third, but that is probably just a natural hazard of a cigar shaped like this. Despite its advertised ring gauge, the Chulo is a fairly small cigar.

Overall construction very good.

Tasting Notes

The first flavors to come wafting from this little guy are smooth and nutty, due in part to the Ecuadorian wrapper which gets the ball rolling. The smoke is creamy and medium in body.

It doesn’t take long before the natural wrapper gives way to the bittersweet chocolate aroma of Brazilian maduro. The smoke is still smooth, but its character changes dramatically. The sweetness on the nose remains but is soon overpowered by earthiness on the palate, and this becomes the primary theme of the cigar.

In the final section some peppery elements enter to complement the earthiness, and the cigar starts to heat up a little. I found it best to slow my pace at the mid-point of the cigar to keep the smoke cool and to keep the earthy flavors in proportion to the sweetness.

Conclusion

La Tradicion Cubana has a reputation for virtuoso cigar making, and this is exemplified by all of the cigars in the Figurado series, including the Chulo. But I was happy to discover that the cigar is more than mere eye candy — it’s a dandy little smoke with lots of smooth and earthy maduro flavors. It’s also pretty obvious that the chef who whipped up Sabor Cubano was supervising the design of the Chulo as well.

I’ll be looking forward to trying the natural version one of these days, but for now I can vouch for the maduro: it’s good. Boxes of ten sell for around $60 USD, which is a fantastic price considering the craftsmanship required to make these two-toned perfectos.

Final Score: 89

Jameson Red Label and Rockstone Coffee

The Jameson Cigar Company was founded in 2008 and the Red and Black Labels were the company’s  inaugural releases. The well-known (and well-reviewed) Declaration and Santos de Miami lines were soon to follow, but I like to think that the first blends from a cigar maker are what makes or breaks the brand’s reputation. So it’s about time that I got around to smoking a few of them.

The Red Label was initially released with a Sumatra wrapper, but the line was reblended in 2009 with an Ecuadorian Connecticut cover leaf.  A binder from Honduras and aged Dominican filler form the core of  Jameson’s mildest blend.

Five sizes are in production:

  • Corona – 5 x 44
  • Perfecto – 5 x 54
  • Torpedo – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 52

One of the flavors that I love to discover in a cigar is coffee — sometimes it presents itself as cocoa, or chocolate — but the bean is the thing that rings my bell. So coffee is a frequent companion to my daily cigar, and I know I’m not alone.

Rockstone "Good Day Sunshine"

It makes sense for this reason that Brad Mayo, the founder of Jameson Cigars, is now also in the coffee business. Rockstone Coffee was established in 2009 as an adjunct to the cigar side of Mayo’s business, and he was kind enough to send along some samples for me to taste. (The Red Label robustos were on my own dime.)

Construction Notes

The shade wrapper on the Jameson Red Label robusto is so light it’s almost amarillo — it’s the color of freshly baked bread, and it has the soft texture typical of Connecticut seed shade leaf. The roll is firm but draws well, and the cap is finely executed with a triple wrap and a flat head.

Most cigars with shade wrappers produce an ash with a very consistent color, usually a smooth light gray. The Red Label, on the other hand, produces a light-colored ash with striations of darker gray and black. The ash is solid, but more importantly, the cigar burns evenly.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

I like a mild smoke every once in a while, and Connecticut Shade, whether the genuine article or grown elsewhere, is a deliciously aromatic leaf. But take the band off the cigar and one mild shade stick usually tastes just like any other. Not so with Jameson’s Red Label.

A tannic tartness lets the smoker know up front that this cigar is going to be a little bit different. The qualities typical of mild shade cigars are also there — a creamy texture (though not as buttery as some), a sweetly floral aroma, and a subtle aftertaste that starts the cigar off gently. There is a woody undertone to the flavor in the first half, and a tiny pinch of pepper on the retrohale.

The second half of the cigar becomes increasingly earthy, and the aroma seems more caramelized than floral. What is surprising at this point is the spice on the palate. The strength of the cigar remains fairly mild, but the flavor is on full. The tannic notes that initially characterize the smoke become increasingly difficult to detect through the earth and pepper.

Rockstone Coffee

Rockstone Guatemala Candelaria

The “Good Day Sunshine” Blend is quite mild, tasty, and easy to drink. The dark-roasted flavors that are so popular with mainstream java junkies are in attendance, but the beans are not over-roasted, which is the problem with the mainstream stuff. The roasty flavors are really well balanced here.

Both of the Rockstone coffee blends work well with the Red Label, and they’re both nice roasts, but I preferred the Guatemalan. There is an acidic spring to this coffee that pairs with the tannin in the cigar as if they were made for each other. The roast is light, maybe a city-plus at most, and this allows the region character to express itself freely. It’s a bold, bright cup with a nice body. The notes of lemon would make me think it was an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe rather than Guatemalan, but then I would be wrong. In that case I would be happy to be wrong as long as I could still grind up a handful of these beans for my breakfast brew.

Conclusion

Pairing the Jameson Red Label with Rockstone coffee was a most enjoyable experiment for me, and my taste buds are still thanking me. (I wasn’t expecting such a long finish on a mild cigar…) And my wallet isn’t complaining too loudly either: the Red Label robusto sells for around $4-5, and the coffee runs around $16 per pound. Both the cigar and the coffee have more character than others in their class, and both are definitely worth tracking down.

http://www.rockstonecoffee.com/

https://www.jamesoncigars.com/

Final Score: 88

Santos de Miami by Jameson

Not many American cigar lovers found it an occasion to celebrate, but last week marked the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Proclamation 3447 and the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. Since February 7, 1962, Americans have either had to seek out Non-Cuban substitutes for their inimitable Cuban favorites or to skirt the law and risk possible legal sanctions. Many of us — and I won’t say who — have done both.

Whatever your political viewpoint — and there are as many points for as there are against the embargo — a positive consequence of the ban has been the development of cigar industries in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua that now rival that of Cuba’s. And this has been a huge boon for cigar lovers everywhere.

The “forbidden fruit” factor has always been an element at play in the blending and marketing of cigars to Americans, but to a certain extent this has faded with the introduction of super premiums from Fuente, Padron, Tatuaje, Davidoff, and many others. But the elusive flavor of Cuban tobacco is never far from our minds. And every once in a while a cigar comes along that gets very close to that flavor. I think Jameson has done that with Santos de Miami.

Santos de Miami is a Dominican puro with a Havana corojo wrapper, Criollo 98 binder, and a blend of criollo and corojo filler leaves. Only two sizes are made: a corona size called Alma (5 x 46) and a toro sized Haven (6 x 56). The cigars feature a box press so extreme that the sticks resemble wafers. They are presented in 10-count boxes of Spanish cedar that preserve the press. (Similar to La Flor Dominicana’s Factory Press line.)

Construction

Jameson’s Santos de Miami cigar is already distinctive with its box press and art deco band — add a pig tail cap and the distinction is complete. The claro wrapper shows some fine veins, but is otherwise clean. The draw is excellent, and the burn is only a little off kilter. This seems to be standard with box-pressed cigars, but in this case the uneven burn was a minor issue and corrected itself over time. The ash was solid, smooth, and delightfully quadrilateral.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Haven and the Alma sizes smoke like very different cigars, though they share the same musky, earthy and Cubanesque aroma. The corona-sized Alma is a sharper, somewhat bolder smoke. It fires up with a pinch of cayenne pepper in the sinuses and then quickly evens out to a smoother but still full-flavored profile of cedar and musk. The Alma burns with a little more passion, but is also less complex than the larger vitola.

The toro-sized Haven is much less peppery and leans on the musk and cedar more heavily than the smaller cigar. The smoke texture is just as creamy smooth though, and it seems to have an additional bass note that the Alma lacks. The middle section is earthy with a sweet cedar edge, and the final third rests on its woody foundation while the earthy flavors take a back seat.

What both sizes have in common is an earthy and musky scent with a cedar note. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to Cuban cigars, but this aroma is really close to what I’ve found in many standard line Habanos. The scent is not quite as delicate, but I find it to be very similar. In any case the aroma complements the sharper character of the Alma just as well as the more complex flavors of the Haven.

Conclusion

Santos de Miami is not an easy cigar to find, but truly “boutique” cigars generally aren’t. This is one worth seeking out if your tastes run to earthy and medium-bodied Cuban-style smokes. At least you won’t have to get them from a guy who knows a guy and end up with cigars of mysterious provenance.

The retail price for the Alma is around 7 USD and the Haven sells for 8. They are available from a few online outlets, but you might as well go straight to the source at Jamesoncigars.com. Pick up a pound of Rockstone coffee while you’re at it and let me know how it is.

Final Score: 91

JML 1902 Torpedo

JML 1902, from Miami’s La Tradicion Cubana, is named for José M. Losa, the grandfather of LTC founder Luis Sanchez. The JML was the first cigar from the new factory in the Dominican Republic after the original factory in Miami was destroyed by fire in 2006.

The JML 1902 uses a Pennsylvania wrapper, which is unusual for today but historically well grounded. In the nineteenth century so many cigars were made in Pennsylvania’s Conestoga River Valley that the word “stogie” became common usage throughout the United States. In the past few years the leaf has experienced a resurgence, especially Pennsylvania broadleaf, which has been used by Rocky Patel and A.J. Fernandez in several different blends. Like Connecticut Broadleaf it is often used as binder, but it is less commonly seen as wrapper.

Both Connecticut and Pennsylvania broadleaf are grown from Cuban seed, but apparently there’s something about Lancaster County that adds some fight to the leaf. It is generally acknowledged that Pennsylvania leaf is more robust in flavor than the Connecticut variety, and it takes longer to process and mature. These characteristics may be why Penna leaf is less commonly used.  The resurgence may be due to the fact that cigar smokers have become increasingly curious and more open to new experiences — sometimes it seems that the rarer the leaf, the better. But the cigar, however refined or rare its components, must still perform well. And the JML 1902 does just that.

That said, I don’t think the Pennsylvania wrapper on the JML 1902 is  actually broadleaf. It’s thinner, more attractive, and in my opinion more subtle than broadleaf. In combination with a Honduran binder and Dominican seco and ligero fillers, the wrapper adds a sweet sharpness that balances out the blend very well.

Four sizes are currently available:

  • Petit-Cetro – 5 3/4 x 44
  • Corona – 6 1/2 x 44
  • Churchill – 6 1/2 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6 1/4 x 54

Construction Notes

The vintage appeal of the umber-colored band sets the tone for this cigar. It looks like something you might find in your grandfather’s junk drawer, along with a dried out can of Kiwi and a stitching awl for fixing baseball mitts. The band is offset by the dark smooth wrapper, a little darker than colorado maduro but not quite maduro. The veins are pronounced enough to make the wrapper rustic without being rough.

The roll is solid, though the cigar feels light in the hand. The cap is finished nicely and the tip clips cleanly with a guillotine cutter. It draws perfectly, burns evenly, and the ash is only slightly flaky.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The JML 1902 torpedo starts up with a sweet bready aroma, something like freshly baked cookies. (And I know how odd that sounds.) Beneath this fascinating aroma are earthy, mineral-like flavors. The flavor is high-toned, sweet but not creamy, and very well balanced. The smoke texture is medium in body, but it has plenty of strength.

Coffee flavors predominate in the mid-section, with sugary, almost maple syrup-like accents on the nose. Earthy flavors continue to occupy the lower register but they gain in strength, as does the aftertaste.

The peppery aftertaste takes over in the last part of the cigar, becoming quite strong, even though the sweetness of the wrapper is still detectable. I found I had to slow down considerably in the last lap to keep the cigar in balance.

Conclusion

There is a whole lot to like about the JML 1902. It’s complex, flavorful, and for those who like a good kick in the pants, it’s got one in reserve. The balance of subtle sweetness and earthy power is quite impressive. Based on these things alone I’d recommend this cigar to any seasoned smoker, but the best part comes last: the price. The JML is a 3 to 4 dollar stick. $60 to 75 USD per box at LTC’s online shop. That’s a screamin’ deal.

This is one of the best cigars I’ve smoked all year, and without a doubt the best cigar in this price range. I can think of no excuse for anyone not to try this cigar. None. Well, maybe one. Some reviewers have reported that these can be a little heavy-handed when fresh. That wasn’t my experience, but it you prefer a gentler smoke, just put them away for a few months and let them mellow. Like any good investment, patience will pay dividends.

Final Score: 92

Declaration by Jameson

For my wild Irish friends and relatives the name Jameson has always been associated with one thing and one thing only: uisce beatha. That’s whiskey with an “e.” Fine Irish wine.

But not anymore. A couple years ago Jameson cigars arrived, thereby providing the perfect match for the perfect drink, a combination which by Winston Churchill’s example can be enjoyed even at breakfast. I’m not about to follow that example, but I’m not about to argue with a man who leads his forces to victory behind a bottle of Johnny Walker Black.

Indeed, cigar smokers can look to Churchill as a model of defiance as we fight the powers that would like to snuff us out. It is in that same spirit that Jameson’s new cigar is called Declaration. It is a blend designed to inspire personal liberty, or as the promotional material advises,  “Smoke to be Free.”

The Declaration is a Dominican puro featuring a Habano 98 wrapper and a Criollo 98 binder. They are manufactured by Tabacalera LTC (La Tradicion Cubana) in Santiago, and are available in boxes of 21. There is only one size: the 5.5 x 50 “Iniquity.”

I confess some confusion about the meaning of the name Iniquity, which means something like licentiousness or sin.  I could give in to the urge to discuss the distinctions between liberty and license, and how these might apply to the legislation of morality, but I think I’d rather smoke this cigar instead.

Construction Notes

This cigar is built like a tank but it performs with finesse. The wrapper is a dark and rustic looking colorado maduro. Some sections of the wrapper are more oily than others, which is a little strange, but aesthetic appeal is not this cigar’s forte anyway. The head is formed well with firm shoulders. The cap is pasted on rather than wound.

The roll is solid and the draw is firm without being tight. At times the ash can be a little flaky at the perimeter but when it’s ready to drop it falls like a stone without crumbling. The burn is even and effortless.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Declaration Iniquity starts up with a flavor of hard wood and a sweet note of maple syrup.  After an inch or so some peppery spice kicks in and the flavors develop more complexity. This cigar seems leathery or meaty on the palate, but it has a sweet and woody aroma that blends well with the other flavors. It’s smooth, but the varied flavors and subdued punch keep it interesting.

The mid section gets a little spicier on the tongue and the finish lengthens. The aroma is still sweet though, woody with a touch of graham cracker.

There are no dramatic changes in the last third, just a deepening meaty spice. The syrupy note transitions to caramel. The aftertaste gets a little charred in the last lap, but aside from that it smokes well to the nub.

Conclusion

Jameson’s Declaration cigar is a tasty and finely rolled medium-bodied smoke that I think almost anyone would enjoy.  The sweet aroma is quite distinct from the palate flavors, lending the smoke a complexity that will interest veterans, but at the same time it’s smooth enough that it won’t frighten off the novices. Overall it’s a very well balanced cigar.

The Declaration Iniquity retails for around $6.00 per stick, which is excellent for any cigar, but for a Dominican puro it’s outstanding.

Final Score: 90

Contest

I want to thank Jameson for offering samples of their Declaration cigar for this review by sharing their generosity with a lucky reader. Just leave a comment about Jameson or La Tradicion Cubana cigars below and I will pick one entry at random to receive a few of these fine smokes for their own enjoyment.  Contest ends January 31, 2010. U.S. residents only please.

And don’t forget to enter the Jameson Humidor contest! All you have to do is sign up for their newsletter and you’re eligible to win a very sweet Vanderburgh Forteleza Humidor stocked with Declaration cigars.

La Tradicion Cubana Deluxe 15th Anniversary

La Tradicion Cubana has been in business for fifteen years, and to celebrate this they have released their 15th Anniversary Deluxe edition. Their last anniversary edition, the tenth, was excellent — they were some of the best cigars in my collection before they mysteriously went up in smoke a couple years ago.

LTC remains one of my favorite boutique cigar companies because they produce a quality premium cigar at a really reasonable price. Anyone who has been reading the cigar press and smoking the latest and greatest knows that an exorbitant price does not always mean high quality — sometimes it just means more hype. Fifteen-dollar limited edition cigars are great for the industry, and fun for those who can afford them, but it’s nice that LTC is looking out for the rest of us.

I was expecting the 15th Anniversary blend to be similar to the 10th, a blend from several countries with an Ecuadorian wrapper, but it’s a different story this time. The 15th Anniversary Deluxe is a Dominican puro. Wrapper, binder, filler — all from the Dominican Republic, where LTC cigars are made in Santiago.

La Tradicion Cubana is known for producing cigars with large ring gauges, including one of the largest commercially available cigars produced anywhere, the 12 x 192 LTC “Big One.” The new Deluxe line is no where close to to that, thank God, but all three sizes are still big in the barrel:

  • Robusto: 5 x 56
  • Churchill: 6 x 52
  • Torpedo: 5 3/4 x 54

They might have come up with a better frontmark for the churchill (which is more like a fat toro) but as Juliet once asked, “what’s in a name?” At least they didn’t call it Montague.

Construction Notes

The wrapper on this 15th Anniversary is gorgeous. This looks like a sun grown wrapper — it’s dark and a little bit rough, and the color is not perfectly consistent, but it has clearly been fermented and processed very carefully. It’s oily enough right out of the cello, but as soon as the cigar is lit and the wrapper warms up, the oils just ooze out. Beautiful. The roll is firm with an easy draw. The large ring gauge and skillful blending result in a slow, cool burn. The robusto and the torpedo smoke for a good hour or more, and the toro (em… the churchill, I mean) went into 90 minute territory.

The only construction issue I had with these was a somewhat erratic burn. They didn’t need correction, but the jagged burn line was a touch irksome. More and more it seems that the better the wrapper leaf is, the more eccentric the burn. It must be the prima donna factor.

Overall construction very good.

Tasting Notes

The sustaining note for this blend is coffee, but it’s a note that goes through some interesting modulations. The first third is marked by coffee (of course) and mildly sweet milk chocolate. Beneath this I detected something like roasted nuts. The smoke is medium bodied in texture and very smooth. There is a slightly acidic touch on the tongue and the finish is mild, but dry.

The base flavor of coffee and roasted nuts takes on a sweeter edge in the second stage, as caramel comes to the fore and some spicier notes drop on the palate. The finish lengthens a little, bit by bit, but the smoke is still smooth and the aftertaste clean.

In the last third the flavors become more concentrated and the coffee-caramel combination starts to taste like a coffee liqueur. There’s also a flavor that mystified me — I couldn’t identify it until I had smoked three or four of these cigars in various shapes, but it finally came to me as I finished off a churchill the other night — I might be crazy, but I think it’s coconut.

Toward the band the flavor turns a little charred, as expected, and the nicotine sneaks up. La Tradicion Cubana isn’t known for powerhouse smokes, but they are certainly capable of producing them. Smoke these past the band and you might get a pretty good buzz, depending on your tolerance. This was surprising because they start out so mild and debonair.

Conclusion

I’m not sure if i like these better than the 10th Anniversary — it’s such a different blend — but without question the Deluxe 15th is worthy of carrying the Anniversary flag for LTC. If I could have my wish there would be an offering with a smaller ring gauge, but the blend has obviously been very well thought out in these larger sizes.

These are slated for release this month, and as I mentioned before, one of the remarkable things about this cigar is its price: boxes of 24 range from 100 USD for the robusto, $110 for the churchill, and $115 for the torpedo. The quality is unbeatable at that price if you like this style of cigar: medium-bodied, smooth, and delicious. Great with coffee. Bring the thermos.

Thanks to LTC for giving me a sneak preview of this fantastic smoke!

Final Score: 91

La Tradicion Cubana cigars can be difficult to find in neighborhood cigar shops. The 15th Anniversary is now available from these internet retailers:

The Cuban Shop

Fuller’s Pullers

La Tradicion Cubana Deluxe Anniversary Robusto

I was reminded this week by Kevin’s review of the Sabor Cubano that I had an LTC Deluxe quietly aging in the humidor. The Box Press reviewed La Tradicion Cubana Deluxe Anniversary earlier this year, in the corona size, and being familiar with Kevin’s reviews I wasn’t too surprised that we’re pretty much in agreement on this one.

The LTC Anniversary blend was introduced in 2004 to celebrate their tenth year in the business. At the time, La Tradicion Cubana was made exclusively in Miami, and this particular blend used tobacco from 1996. Press releases claimed that seals on the bales proved the age of the tobacco, a guarantee that more of us might reasonably request from cigar makers prone to, um, hyperbole.

This Anni blend features an Ecuadorian wrapper (no mention of seed origin) which encases a Honduran binder and filler leaves from Nicaragua and the DR. The wrapper is a smooth and dry colorado with minimal veins, though one stick suffered a crease toward the foot, probably due to hasty rolling. The head of the cigar is flat, but lopsided, and the sloppy triple cap looks almost inadvertent. It’s not a bad looking cigar if you don’t look too closely, but it’s not what I expect from an “Anniversary.”

Dude. Clean your ashtray.

Dude. Clean your ashtray.

In any case, it cuts easily and draws well, revealing sweet hay and hints of barnyard on a cold pull. I was surprised to encounter burn issues from the start here, calling for correction three separate times to keep the wrapper in line with the rest of the blend. I might expect this from a maduro leaf (actually, I do) but not a natural Ecuadorian of an “Anniversary” stature.

While the appearance and the burn might leave a little something to be desired, the flavor and aroma do not. The LTC Deluxe robusto begins its performance with an earthy overture, over which floats a sweet woody aroma. The texture of the smoke is creamy and fairly mild with a short dry finish and a touch of spice at the back of the palate.

The Deluxe Anniversary starts out like a slightly more elegant version of the standard line LTC, but gradually shows more complexity. In the middle section the earthy notes fade and are replaced by nutty flavors. The body builds a little to about a medium and the smoke remains creamy. The aroma is really unusual and interesting at this point, retaining the sweetness but picking up a bready scent in place of the earlier woodiness. The combined effect reminds me of freshly baked cookies.

The last section turns up the spice in a big way and by the end the finish is long and peppery. In addition to its increased sophistication, this cigar accelerates and crosses the finish line a lap before standard line LTC. They’re both fine smokes, but the Anniversary really shows up the regular blend in the last stage of the race. Despite my grumblings about the appearance and burn of this cigar, the flavor really redeems it. The burn is a nuisance, but sometimes a cigar maker has to make sacrifices for great taste. In this case that was a winning move.

Unfortunately it looks like these were a limited run and are no longer available for sale. Just keep in mind that next year marks La Tradicion Cubana’s 15th Anniversary — so maybe there will be a reprise! In the meantime, run out and get yourself some of the regular blend, or a box of Sabor Cubanos. For around 75 bucks a box, I really doubt you’ll regret it.

Las Memorias Cubanas Campanas

cnv0387.jpg

Cigars from Little Havana’s La Tradicion have garnered much praise from fans of boutique stogies. I certainly have nothing against huge conglomerates like Altadis or General because they make quality consistent cigars, but there’s something special about a small run handmade from a mom and pop chinchal. But business being what it is, successful small runs turn into bigger ones, and boutique companies become industry juggernauts.

This has not yet happened to La Tradicion — they are still a relatively small company (though not really a chinchal) and they are growing despite setbacks such as the fire that hit their Calle Ocho shop last November. The fire was suspected as arson, one incident in a string of such tragedies that befell the neighborhood last fall. The fire destroyed the strip mall in which La Tradicion was located, along with the celebrated Libreria Cervantes, a Spanish language book shop. The only items to survive the fire in the galera were some records on computer disks and their cigar store indian.

The only fortunate aspect of the fire was that La Tradicion had already begun a transition to the Dominican Republic under Sanchez’s partner, Pablo Romay. Romay is a veteran of Havana’s Romeo y Julieta factory who emigrated to the U.S. in 1994. He began rolling cigars for La Tradicion in 2000 and Sanchez quickly promoted him in recognition of his skills and management abilities. After several years in the Little Havana location Sanchez began to explore a move to the Dominican as a solution to labor difficulties and the rising cost of doing business… expenses like fire insurance, and rebuilding your factory after some asshat burns it down.

La Tradicion still maintains an office in Miami, but the new factory in Santiago — Real Tabacalera Sanchez-Romay– is now the main production facility.

Luis Sanchez succinctly describes La Memorias Cubanas this way: “Light wrapper. Full body.” Sometimes less is more… except when it comes to ring gauge. La Tradicion has set records for some of the largest ring gauges made — and this line follows the trend. “Campanas” is a traditional torpedo-shape production vitola; the Cuban Bolivar Belicoso Fino is one of the more common examples, but at 6 1/2 x 60 the LMC Campanas is a bit larger than the traditional vitola.

The wrapper is a silky claro Ecuadorian Sumatra. The filler is a blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan leaf, bound up in a selection from Honduras. The result is a nice looking, if somewhat unwieldy cigar. Between the fingers it feels like grasping a tree branch. The nice thing about a torpedo is that it allows you to choose the aperture of the opening depending on where you cut it. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a jaw breaker.

Las Memorias Cubanas come equipped with a thin cedar sheath — this imparts a distinctly woody scent to the wrapper and the prelight draw. There is an occasional small green blemish on a couple of these, but nothing to be concerned about.

This torpedo draws well and lights easily, even though it seems like a large area to light. It sort of felt like painting the foot with fire. Once it was lit it burned very well and needed no further attention. All the construction tests were passed with flying colors.

The initial flavor is a little mild, sweet and nutty with a hint of pepper on the nose and in the back of the throat. The weight of the smoke is quite heavy though, and the texture is deliciously creamy. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes this is a very domesticated cigar. At the two-thirds point it revs things up with a spadeful of earth and more generous helpings of pepper. The aroma from the wrapper is really nice — toasty with some delicate semi-floral accents. So far this has balanced really well with the earthier flavors on the tongue.

While I am admiring the solid salt and pepper ash that I’ve built and ashed only once, I become aware of an intensely earthy and quite lengthy finish. The last third of this cigar is quite powerful in terms of flavor, but it loses its sense of balance at this point. The nuances from the wrapper become completely obscured by the dark spice on the tongue, and the flavor itself seems a bit one-dimensional at this point. I found that this cigar is very good up to this point, but I didn’t find it “nubbable.”

I really liked this cigar… up to a point. But that point is where somebody with a taste for heavy earthy cigars might begin to really enjoy it. These will run you around 6 USD a stick, which is quite reasonable. These are very large, very well made cigars. But for me, I think I’ll be sticking to LTC’s Sabor Cubano and La Tradicion Cubana.

-cigarfan