Gustav Bock is best known as the first cigar maker to put bands on his Havanas, starting sometime around 1854. At that time most cigars were sold from large bags of loose sticks and couldn’t be identified once separated from the mothership. One story says that Bock invented the cigar band to keep inferior cigars from being sold as his own. Another, more unlikely, tale is that they were designed to prevent staining the fingers of high society ladies (or gents given to the practice of wearing white gloves.)
But Herr Bock was a master businessman who had a gift for marketing. When he found that he could not break into the American market without brand recognition, even when he was offering his cigars nearly at cost, he developed an ingenious plan. Legend has it that he shipped small lots of cigars to “various undiscoverable places” in the U.S. addressed to George Washington. The undervalued parcels never reached their fictitious destinations and were picked up by customs agents, sold at auction, and thereby entered the American market. The cigars were recognized for their quality, identified by their bands, and eventually gained a loyal following.
Today we have these bits of cigar lore by which to remember Gustav Bock, but during his lifetime he became a recognized captain of industry. In the latter part of his career, around the turn of the century, Bock’s holdings were consolidated to form Henry Clay, Bock and Co, and later he gained control of the Havana Commercial Company as well. At that time he controlled almost all of the cigar production in Cuba. Later on this company would be acquired by the American Tobacco Company, and eventually all these dealings would end up at the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court as an antitrust issue. Bock was more about big business than cigar bands, but today that is what remains. That, and a brand name.
One of Bock’s better known brands was called “Aguila de Oro” or Golden Eagle, and while the Bock brand name has passed through many hands in the past century, the eagle remains. There appears to be a Dominican made version of this cigar currently available in Europe. Altadis may be marketing one version to the U.S. and a different one to the EU, as it appears to be doing with the VegaFina brand as well.
In any case, the blend on the shelves here in the U.S. is of Nicaraguan origin, with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler. The line was created (or re-introduced) by Altadis “to compliment our lines of inexpensive premium brands like Gispert and Vega Fina.”
The general appearance of the Bock robusto does nothing to betray the marketing of this cigar as an “inexpensive” brand. It’s rough and the cap is cut unevenly. It looks like it was thrown together in a rush. The prelight wrapper scent is of fresh hay and a prelight pull tastes bright and grassy. The draw is firm but serviceable.
But this cigar shouldn’t be judged by prelight appearances alone; it performs a whole lot better than it looks. It starts up with a pleasant toasty sweet tobacco flavor. Nothing unusual, just straight up smooth and creamy smoke. It’s mild to medium in body with a nice texture and very little bite. It sets up a solid white ash that compares favorably with any premium Nicaraguan cigar I’ve smoked in the past year.
This robusto builds in flavor toward the mid-point, getting a little woodier and by the last third brings a moderate dose of spice and most surprisingly, cocoa. I can’t think of another cigar in this price range that shows up with cocoa in any amount… but this one has it, at least in the mid to final stages. It’s not as thoroughgoing as the premium Pepin blends, but for a fraction of the price I have to say I’m impressed.
And the price is low. Seriously low. A box of Bock y Ca robustos runs around 30 USD. And yes, it’s a box, not a bundle. At this price you can hardly go wrong, unless you’re expecting a full bodied superpremium, which it isn’t. It’s a quality blue-collar medium bodied smoke, for a solid blue collar price. Try a couple. Your wallet will thank you and your palate won’t complain.
For other reviews of good cheap smokes, check out Walt’s Bargain Cigar Breakdown at the Stogie Review.