At one point in the dim and distant past the name Ashton referred to a line of pipes. In the mid 1980’s Robert Levin, owner of Holt’s Cigar Holdings, decided to launch his own brand of cigars and appropriated the Ashton name for his cigars. The first Ashton was a mild bodied cigar with a Connecticut Shade wrapper made by Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame. This was before the days of Cigar Aficionado and the cigar revolution that it started, so business was slow and marketing was difficult. Ashton would take some time to be noticed by the smoking masses.
By the late 80’s Levin’s friends the Fuentes were in on the production of Ashtons, making the Ashton Cabinet series and Ashton Aged Maduros. Business grew, slowly but surely and with the “boom” Ashtons were flying off the shelves. By 1994 Levin was distributing a million cigars a year, and today produces about six million Ashton cigars.
In the early 90’s Levin began to research an extension to the Ashton line. He was looking for something robust, a rich full bodied cigar, and the line was to be called Ashton Crown. The wrapper was to be from Chateau de la Fuente, the same wrapper used on Fuente’s Opus X cigars. But the tremendous success of the Opus X meant that Chateau de la Fuente wrapper was going to be in short supply, to say the least. As a replacement Carlito Fuente suggested an Ecuadorian Sumatra seed wrapper from the Oliva farms. Levin tried it and was blown away. It was every bit as powerful as he hoped and sensed that it would age extremely well.
Carlito Fuente and Richard Meerapfel (the angel of Cameroon leaf) are credited for the name “Virgin Sun Grown.”
Ashton VSGs are made in the Dominican Republic by the Fuentes. The binder and filler are Dominican and the wrapper is of course the same Ecuadorian leaf noted above. Reportedly the filler includes an extra helping of ligero to pump up the volume — one taste proves that is an entirely credible claim.
The wrapper is very similar to the wrapper on the Diamond Crown cigar — an unusual colorado maduro with even and widely spaced veins. A prelight pull shows an easy draw and a slightly sweet taste. I’ve had this specimen in the humidor for about six months, so it’s had some time to rest and get to know its neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s time for this VSG to bid farewell to the Toranos (such nice people) and the Plasencias (what a sense of humor!) and meet its destiny.
This is a powerful but graceful cigar. The first half is marked by a leathery foundation that wavers at times to cedar. The finish is lengthy, but not persistent. By the time you’re ready for another puff the finish is just taking its leave, and you’re ready for another taste.
The second half becomes a little woodier, as if the leather and the cedar have switched places and now the wood takes precedence. Some peppery notes are also in evidence, and the flavor becomes a bit sweeter. There are some lighter spices in there along with the pepper — I thought I detected cinnamon at one point, but it didn’t recur. Maybe I was hallucinating. Or maybe just buzzed. In any case, I was really impressed by the smoothness of this smoke. It’s surprisingly well balanced for a heavyweight blend. Well, I guess it’s not THAT surprising when you consider who made it.
This belicoso is a very robust smoke, but it’s not overpowering. You will definitely want to enjoy a full meal before sitting down with this one, and a strong refreshment is advised. I pulled an old bottle of Oban from the back of the liquor cabinet — Edan’s video reminded me I still had a couple drams left in the bottle. (And a better cigar to accompany it.)