Alec Bradley Post Embargo Robusto

AB Post EmbargoPrior to the last U.S. election, it looked like restrictions on Cuban cigar imports might be relaxing a little. Some restrictions have in fact been loosened a bit, but it’s too early to celebrate the “Post Embargo” era just yet, at least with regard to cigars.

Nevertheless, the embargo has always loomed large in the minds of American cigar smokers. We don’t like being told what to do, what to buy, what to eat, or what to smoke. Like it or not, we tend to err on the side of liberty, even when it facilitates imprudence. Make that warning label a little bigger, California. Nobody gives a shit.

So most of us have, at one time or another, thumbed our noses at the government and sampled that “forbidden fruit.” Some of it is amazing, and irreproducible with non-Cuban tobacco. But some of it is also pedestrian, badly rolled, and easily counterfeited. The end of the embargo does not mean that Habanos will automatically assume the throne in the U.S. market. Strong cigar companies like Alec Bradley will survive, and I expect they will thrive against the competition. This will be good for everyone.

In any case, Alec Bradley is not waiting for the government’s next move. The Post Embargo era began for AB with this blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan leaves wrapped in a Honduran Criollo 98 wrapper from the Trojes region. (I’m not sure if any other cigar makers are using wrapper from Trojes. It seems to be synonymous with Alec Bradley.)

Three sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Gordo – 6 x 60

AB Post Embargo 2

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Post Embargo robusto is dry but smooth, with a workmanlike cap to match. The cigar is box pressed, sits nicely in the hand, and draws very well. The burn is a little uneven at times, but not to the point of distraction. The ash is solid, though slightly flaky.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The Post Embargo starts up with a tannic bite and a handful of cocoa powder on the nose. If I didn’t know what cigar this was, I might have guessed it was an old Pepín blend.  Earth dominates the palate and the aftertaste, along with some white pepper that dies down after an inch or so. Meanwhile, the tannins go marching on. Pucker up.

Midway into the cigar, cedar and light kitchen spices make an appearance, combining with the tannins to create a somewhat citric profile. Cocoa continues to play in the nasal passages. There is an unexpected sweetness just inside the last third, a pocket of sugar that comes from nowhere. The earth becomes fairly heavy toward the finish line, overpowering the sweetness and complexity. The flavors dirty a bit at the end as the cigar bows out and calls it a night.

Conclusion

Alec Bradley’s Post Embargo robusto is a sophisticated medium-bodied cigar that reminds me a lot of the classic Nicaraguan blends that Pepín Garcia made about ten years ago. Mouth watering tannins combined with loads of cocoa, sweetness, and earth.  At first sight, 8 bucks might seem overpriced — admittedly,  it’s not the best looking stick on the shelf — but I think it’s well worth it.

The Post Embargo celebration may be a bit premature when it comes to open competition with Habanos, but when the embargo is actually lifted — and I think it’s only a matter of time — the AB Post Embargo shows that the blending creativity and quality control of American cigar manufacturers will stand up well against the respected Cuban tradition.

AB Post Embargo 3

Final Score: 90

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CAO Consigliere

CAO Consigliere

Buried deep in the New Jersey pine barrens lie the remains of a cigar blend that was once sponsored by a premium cable TV network. I have fond memories of that cigar — a rich blend of sweet maple and chocolate that was smooth and easy to smoke. It was a tad on the expensive side, but a nice treat every once in a while. And then something happened to it. The blend went off, as sometimes happens, and I lost interest in it. I wasn’t surprised when the brand disappeared altogether. I assumed it was a contract hit, and I guess in a way it was.

So imagine my surprise when the ghost of that cigar rose from the fog of my humidor. It’s back, and the blend is the original one released in 2006, before it went sideways. Now denominated Consigliere, it’s a five-country blend anchored by a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. The binder is Honduran, and the core is composed of leaves from Nicaragua, Colombia, and the DR.

Best of all: the price is greatly reduced from when the cigar was licensed to that TV network.

Three sizes are in production:

  • 5 x 52 — Associate
  • 6 x 54 — Soldier
  • 7 x 56 — Boss

CAO Consigliere 2

Construction Notes

The Consigliere Associate is a solid parejo with a well-formed head and a sloppy cap. The wrapper is an oily maduro with some spots and rough patches. It contrasts nicely with the red-and-black band. The draw is very good, and it burns slowly with lots of smoke volume.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Associate opens with cedar and the touch of sweet maple that I remember from the old days. The smoke is smooth and woodsy, and just as easy going as I remember it. In the mid-section it picks up more spice and becomes earthier. The aftertaste is a bit flinty, but this is nicely balanced by dried fruit and a hint of chocolate on the nose. The smoke is medium bodied in texture and strength. By the final stage the flavor is tangier and the earthy qualities build to an acidic zing.

CAO Consigliere 3

Conclusion

I always wanted to be Tom Hagen so I could say, “I have a special practice. I handle one client.” But then I would have to deal with Jack Woltz and his horse. I’ll stick with this Consigliere instead.

CAO’s Consigliere is almost everything I remember from ten years ago, if olfactory memory can be trusted, but at a better price. 20-count boxes of the Associate size can be found for under $100, almost half the price of the Premium TV Network brand. You can have the same great cigar for less money and be spared all the marketing malarkey at the same time. That’s an offer I can’t refuse.

Final Score: 91

262 Revere Robusto

262 Revere

262 Cigars was originally slated to be called “Revolution Cigars,” so it’s entirely appropriate that they produce a blend named for Paul Revere. On the other hand, it isn’t clear that the American revolution was the intended reference: evidently there were trademark issues with the original name, so the company was named 262 for the date that the Cuban embargo was imposed (2/62).

In any case, the revolution that has concerned cigar smokers more recently is the one to “keep the government out of our humidors,” to quote the 262 website.  Bureaucrats and the FDA have taken the place of redcoats, and torch lighters are our lanterns.

The 262 Revere is a Nicaraguan puro with a wrapper from Jalapa, double binders from Esteli and Jalapa, and fillers from Jalapa, Esteli, and Condega. Did I mention… Jalapa?  Selling me this cigar was not a challenge.

Four classic sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Corona – 5.5 x 44
  • Lancero – 7 x 38
  • Toro – 6 x 54 (Box Press)

262 Revere 2

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the 262 Revere Robusto is a smooth looking maduro with a semi-gloss and a few veins. The rounded head is topped with a functional single cap. Some of the robustos I’ve smoked have had some soft spots, but these have not affected the draw or the burn, which has been consistently good. I’m not sure who cares about, or even notices the odd soft spot in a cigar… if you see someone in the cigar shop palpating the cigars… I suggest a discreet exit and perhaps a word with the manager.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The Revere Robusto opens with leather and spice in a moderate and balanced dosage. There are notes of bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon on the nose, and gradually a mild bite on the tongue develops. After an inch or so the leather deepens a little, edging into musky territory. The smoke texture is in the medium range, with a strength to match.

The spice comes and goes through the middle section of the cigar, and there is more cocoa on the nose. It does develop more of a bite toward the end of the cigar, but it never reaches full power. The complexity of the flavor muddles a bit toward the end when the pepper grinder takes over and the muskiness turns to earth and char.

262 Revere 3

Conclusion

The Revere is a Nicaraguan puro, and it has the pepper and tannins to prove it, but it has a muskiness that I often associate with Honduran cigars. The wrapper is very aromatic for such a dark leaf — the combination of cinnamon and leather and coffee is quite tasty. At times the pepper threatens to overcome this delicate combo, but it perseveres.

Perhaps the 262 Revere is best summed up this way: after I smoked one, I happened to find a box at a ridiculously low price online and snapped it up immediately. I haven’t been disappointed.

Final Score: 90

Cohiba Macassar Toro Grande

Cohiba Macassar is the latest edition to General Cigar’s Cohiba line, which is sometimes called the “red dot” Cohiba to distinguish it from the famed Cuban cigar. The Macassar joins four other Cohiba blends currently in production: the Black, Dominican, Nicaragua, and XV lines.

Cohiba Macassar

Macassar, otherwise known as Diospyros celebica, is a variety of ebony that grows in Southeast Asia, particularly on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. It’s a visually striking wood, especially prized by luthiers for fingerboards, and evidently it is also good for turning. Like all ebony, it is rare and expensive. A 6″ x 6″ x 2″ block of Macassar ebony runs about $60 USD. The tree itself is endangered, largely due to the conversion of its natural habitat to crop land.

The Macassar is a super premium blend presented in 10-count boxes that incorporate a veneer of this elegant and expensive wood. I know I should appreciate the beauty of this, but my first thought is actually: “Where is Lew Rothman when we need him?” Lew ran JR Cigars for years and was massively successful. He was also a great defender of the working man’s right to smoke a decent cigar at a decent price. He used to say that the difference between a 2 dollar and a 10 dollar cigar is 8 bucks. I appreciate that sentiment, but I’ll also tell you right now that Cohiba’s Macassar is no La Finca.

The wrapper is a habano strain grown in a part of the Connecticut River Valley where the conditions aren’t as conducive to tobacco agriculture as others, but the result is a more flavorful leaf. The binder is a Connecticut broadleaf that has been aged for 6 years, and the filler is a blend of Dominican leaf from the Mao region and Nicaraguan Jalapa. All of these tobaccos are aged at least 4 years (the binder for 6) and then aged an additional year in rum barrels.

Surprisingly, this is not a limited edition. It’s a regular production addition, so it should be around for as long as people are willing to buy a cigar at 20 bucks a pop. It’s available in 3 expensive sizes:

  • Toro Grande: 6 x 52
  • Gigante: 6 x 60
  • Double Corona: 7 1/4 x 54

Cohiba Macassar 2

Construction Notes

The Macassar Toro Grande does not look like a super premium cigar, but it is built like one. The colorado maduro wrapper is thick and veiny, and the rounded head sports a functional but less than attractive cap. The roll is solid, and the draw is spot on. It burns evenly and slowly while it builds a solid gray ash.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Toro Grande opens with chocolate and coffee on the nose and a dash of pepper on the tongue.  After half an inch or so the pepper grows in balanced intensity, without overpowering the other flavors. At this point I’m getting a whiff of charred oak barrel with some fruitiness, maybe a touch of cola.  The smoke is smooth and medium to full in body.

About half way through this cigar I notice what it is lacking: tannin. This is surprising, especially with the woody note that emerges at this point. It’s fairly rare for a cigar with a woody flavor profile to lack tannin, especially the big woody Nicaraguans that have taken over the mainstream, but the Macassar manages fine without it.

The coffee and chocolate flavors soften to cocoa in the second half. The aroma is complex, woody with dark spices and a musky note that suggests leather but doesn’t quite get there.  This cigar begs to be savored towards the end — rushing it results in char and bitterness. Make time for this big boy.

Conclusion 

Rough edges often accompany complexity in full-bodied cigars, but the Cohiba Macassar sidesteps all that. There is a price for this, of course: an MSRP around $22 USD.   Part of this price covers the rare wood used to decorate the box, which is unfortunate. I’d be perfectly happy with plain old Spanish cedar and a break on the price.

Then again, “Cohiba Spanish Cedar” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Maybe they could call it the “Antimacassar” instead.

Thank you, folks. I’ll be here all week.

Cohiba Macassar 3

Final Score: 89

El Galan Reserva Especial

El Galan Reserva Especial

It was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” With the death of Fidel Castro and the relaxation (for now) of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, it would be good to remember what old Faulkner said. Regardless of what happens in the near future, what happened to Cubans during and after the revolution will continue to have an effect on thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans. There’s no escaping history.

The cigar business brings that history to the present, from seed to smoke. Take the subject of today’s little examination: the El Galan Reserva Especial. The founder and blender-in-chief is Felix A. Mesa, who is originally from the Cabaiguan region of Cuba. He comes to the industry with some familiar credentials: three generations of ancestors who worked the fields of Central Cuba and made their names in the business.

Look carefully at the band and you’ll see in the center El Galan himself, “the gentleman.” Flanking him are two small photographs: on the left is Felix Mesa’s mother, Ana Nancy, working in the tobacco field removing tobacco buds, and on his right Mesa’s grandfather Francisco working on his farm. (Check out a fine interview with Felix Mesa at hoochly for more.)

Like many cigar makers with Cuban roots, Mesa eventually made his way to Nicaragua, and today he operates a factory in Esteli where about half a dozen different blends are made. For many of today’s greatest cigar makers, Cuban roots now flower in Nicaragua.

El Galan Reserva Especial is a Nicaraguan puro made in four sizes:

  • Airosos – 5 x 52
  • Gallardos – 6 x 52 torpedo
  • Apuestos – 5 3/4 x 54
  • Obesos – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

El Galan Reserva 2

I test drove El Galan Reserva in the Apuestos size, a square pressed cigar with near-toro dimensions. The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro, rich and slightly rough. There are a few prominent veins and the triple cap is not quite perfect, but definitely serviceable.

The cigar is rolled well with a good draw and a slow burn that meanders a bit but corrects itself. Each one of the three I smoked for the review was consistent in this regard, so there’s good quality control here.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

El Galan 3

There’s a nice blend of sugar and spice here. The Apuestos open bright and peppery with a citric bite, but this is balanced by cedar and a touch of graham cracker on the nose. The body is medium, growing to full, and the strength is around medium to medium-full.

The pepper diminishes as the cigar develops and more savory flavors appear on the palate. The smoke becomes meaty with an earthy aftertaste. A few sweet notes continue to dance on the nEl Galan 4ose, but they deepen a bit as the cedar loses its edge and becomes more oaky. A finale composed of increased earthiness, char, and pepper closes out the cigar.

Conclusion

I don’t usually expect a lot of complexity from cigars with wrappers this dark, but El Galan Reserva delivers. It’s well built, consistent, and in the $6-7 USD range for all four sizes, it’s nicely priced. This is one to check out if you’re looking for a complex and meaty maduro.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask Jeff, writing for Casas Fumando early this year.

 

Final Score: 90

Partagas Ramon y Ramon

Partagas Ramon

I remember my first Partagas… a No. 10, if I recall. It was a smooth, mellow, mildly spicy cigar that tickled my virginal taste buds and left me a believer in the brand from that moment on.  Eventually I learned that the active ingredient in that blend is a Cameroon wrapper. For me, Partagas is Cameroon, and the Partagas Benji Menendez Master blend is the best of the lot. Okay, the Cuban Partagas is something else entirely, but the Partagas Black? No, man. I don’t know what that is, but to me it’s not a Partagas.

Cameroon wrappers came into popularity as a substitute for Cuban wrapper after the embargo was enacted in 1961. While many cigar manufacturers gave up in despair at the loss of Cuban tobacco, Stanford Newman (founder of the J. C. Newman Cigar Co. and maker of Cuesta Rey and Diamond Crown cigars) found that Cameroon wrappers might serve as a good alternative. Cameroon is certainly not identical to Cuban tobaccos, but it has a similar earthiness, plus an additional spiciness.

The Newmans and the Fuentes have done amazing things with Cameroon, but the folks at General Cigar have kept up with them. The Cameroon wrapper they are using for the Ramon y Ramon is a high priming, sungrown leaf cultivated in the Belita region by the Meerapfel family, who seem to have a monopoly on the choicest leaf in Africa.

The heart of the cigar is blended with a proprietary tobacco developed as a hybrid: agronomists crossed a delicate vintage strain with a more robust and disease-resistant variety to create the romantically named “PM01”.  Pair this with some Nicaraguan tobacco, hold it in place with a Dominican wrapper, and finish it off with that Belita Cameroon, and voila! — it’s a Partagas Ramon y Ramon.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 1/2 x 50
  • Maxim Grande – 6 x 52
  • Gigante – 6 x 60
  • Fabuloso – 7 x 54

Partagas Ramon 2

Construction Notes

Cameroon wrappers add tremendous flavor and complexity to a blend, but they are rarely pretty. They tend to be brittle, dry, and they don’t look terribly appetizing. This one is a case in point: the wrapper is rough and dusty looking, a pale yellowish brown, almost grayish. On the positive side, the wrapper is strong and so far I haven’t had one split on me.

The roll is solid and the head is finished in a rounded Cullman cap. The Ramon y Ramon draws very well, burns evenly at a moderate pace, and leaves a firm light-gray ash in its wake.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

The Ramon y Ramon opens with the leitmotif that recurs throughout this cigar: earthiness  with a minty tang. It’s not the same earthiness that you find in a Cuban cigar — it’s not as subtle, not as bready, and it’s spicier — but it’s vaguely similar. The spiciness takes the form of cedar scents, white pepper, and cinnamon on the nose.

In the mid-section of the cigar there are bittersweet chocolate notes, a little more pepper, and a continuing eucalyptic mintiness. The body of the smoke is about medium, with a strength to match.

The complex and alluring aroma of this cigar never lets up, so I’m willing to forgive the excessive tannins that sneak in at the end. Keep a drink handy to cure your pucker.

Partagas Ramon 4

Conclusion

The Partagas Ramon y Ramon has a Cuban-style earthiness at its core; it’s similar to the Toraño Cameroon in this respect, but it’s more complex. The aroma alone is worth the price of admission, which is around US $7.50. For the moment this cigar is a brick-and-mortar exclusive, but it’s well worth a trip to the shop. For me, it doesn’t quite beat out the Benji Mendendez, but it creeps up awfully close.

Final Score: 91

Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive

Herrera Esteli TAA

Several Drew Estate blends have put the spotlight on Connecticut Broadleaf, most notably the Liga Privada No. 9, but the Herrera Esteli TAA is the first cigar blended by Willy Herrera for Drew Estate to use a broadleaf wrapper.  (The original Herrera Esteli utilizes Ecuadorian Habano and the Norteño uses San Andres maduro.)

Before joining Drew Estate in 2011, Herrera was known for his work at El Titan de Bronze in  Miami, but he has also created blends for Ernesto Padilla, Nestor Miranda, La Palina, and others.

The TAA was designed as an exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America and was released at the TAA convention in April of this year.

Beneath the broadleaf wrapper is a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and the filler is a blend of the usual Nicaraguan suspects — Esteli (surprise!), Jalapa, and Condega. Only one size is in production, a 6 x 52 toro, and the cigar is sold in 12-count boxes. The cigar is made at the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is a little rough but it oozes oil and has every appearance of richness. The head of the cigar is rounded, perfectly symmetrical, and the cap is almost seamless. The roll is solid and the draw is firm but easy. The cigar burns evenly and leaves a solid, light gray ash. The rollers in La Gran Fabrica have clearly taken extra care with this one.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Herrera Esteli TAA 2

Tasting Notes

The TAA Exclusive takes broadleaf seriously, and it takes full advantage of the woody sweetness of this stellar leaf from the first puff. This is a very smooth smoking toro; it develops a little bit of spice in the last third, but up to that point it really focuses on the strengths of its broadleaf wrapper.

The cigar is earthy on the palate, but the aftertaste is quite mild. The mouthfeel is somewhat waxy — the earthiness on the tongue, sweet woody char on the nose, and the waxy texture combine to create an effect that reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle.

The cigar develops a little more body and picks up some spice and some coffee notes in the last third. It isn’t a particularly complex cigar and the flavor transitions are not dramatic; the flavors are focused and tend not to stray too much from the ones that it opens with.

Herrera esteli 3

Conclusion

The Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive is a broadleaf lover’s classic. It isn’t as bold as the Liga Privada No. 9, but it’s far more elegant than Nica Rustica. It’s rich, perfectly constructed, and easy to smoke. My kind of cigar, actually. On the other hand, if you find smooth billows of humus, sweet wet wood, freshly ground coffee, and a smattering of pepper at the finale a little too tedious, you’ll be saving yourself $12 USD per stick by leaving this one at the shop.

Final Score: 90