Cruzado cigars were introduced to the world in an unorthodox fashion last summer when the cigar’s creator, Dion Giolito of Illusione fame, decorated his booth at the IPCPR with pictures of the cult leader Jim Jones. There were those in attendance who immediately condemned this as offensive and in poor taste, which of course it was. But it was more than that, I think. Instead of drawing customers in with the treacle of bikini girls and tv celebrities, he seemed to be challenging us with a twisted kind of advertising archetype, an image of charismatic evil. Instead of hawking his new product (which is what the show is for) he was offering a crowd of starry-eyed cigar fans an opportunity for self reflection, if not outright criticism. At the very least it was unexpected.
Ultimately it was more of a comment on the cigar industry (and perhaps the show itself) than anything else. If it showed disrespect for anyone it was the ad execs who drive the cigar business, or whoever the guys are who mix the industry’s Kool Aid. And while I can see his point (without taking it quite so seriously) I think letting Jim Jones to do the talking was a somewhat sideways approach. Provocative, yes, but maybe more dramatic than necessary. Gutsy though, definitely gutsy.
Later in the show a sign appeared plastered over the multiple faces of Jim Jones : SOLD OUT. I found this ironic on about seven different levels, but I’ll spare you the post-modern mumbo jumbo.
Since then the controversy has subsided and the reviews of Cruzado have been almost uniformly excellent — the cigar has scored very well with the mainstream press, the blogs, and the guy in the shop who told me I was really going to like it. (Okay, maybe the last guy was selling me a little Kool Aid. But it did win the Zennie for 2008, which carries more weight with me than a retail pitch.)
Illusione is a pretty punchy cigar. Cruzado was designed by Giolito and Arsenio Ramos of Raices Cubanas to be a little less potent than Illusione by substituting viso for ligero in the filler and by easing up on the corojo content in the blend. As Giolito told Blog of the Leaf:
Whereas Illusione is a corojo blend with one component of criollo, Cruzado is a criollo blend with one component of corojo. Illusione exhibits an earthy sweetness in the olfactory sense. The profile of Cruzado is more forward on the palate with leather and spice.
Six vitolas are available, all of which have relatively narrow ring gauges:
- Avalitos: 4 x 46 (petit robusto)
- Dantes: 5 x 48 (robusto)
- Domenicos: 5 5/8 x 46 (corona gorda)
- Elitas: 6 1/4 x 44 (corona larga)
- Marios: 7 x 47 (churchill)
- Marelas: 5 5/6 x 46 (perfecto)
They are produced at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras using Nicaraguan criollo wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler from both Nicaragua and Honduras.
The Dantes is Cruzado’s robusto entry, though the 48 ring makes it seem almost like a short churchill. The wrapper is rustic, a little rough, and the bumpy texture of the binder beneath is easily seen on the surface. The head is triple capped with an attractive pig tail.
The pre-light characteristics are unremarkable, but the draw is spot on perfect. It lights up easily and gets things started with a bang — I was expecting a milder entry compared to the Illusione line, but the peppery overture with which this cigar starts is every bit as bold.
After half an inch or so the Dantes eases up a little and the differences between this and Illusione become evident. Cruzado lacks the same hickory/hazelnut flavor that makes Illusione so distinct. Instead I pick up freshly cut hardwood with an elusive sweetness on the edge. I’m not sure what it is…caramelized sugar maybe? Occasionally I’ll pass a little smoke through my sinuses to aid in my investigation, but I found the Cruzado to be a little too strong to do this comfortably.
The aftertaste is long and earthy, and it stays that way for the duration. The Dantes burns slowly and evenly, wavering only a little here and there, and builds a solid dirty gray ash.
The mid-section brings out some cocoa/chocolate flavors and continued earthiness on the palate. The last third is almost Honduran tasting — thick lashings of leather and pepper, almost like a Camacho Corojo, but lighter and more refined. And finally, as the band approaches, there are some hickory notes on the nose that are reminiscent of Illusione.
My expectation was that Cruzado would be a much lighter cigar than Illusione, but that was not my experience. It may be a tad lighter, but not by much, and it’s certainly not a lighter formulation of the Illusione blend. (For that, I might recommend the Illusione ~mk~, which is a brilliant cigar in its own right.)
The Cruzado Dantes wins big points for complexity and style — there are some distinctly unusual flavors here, and they’re all balanced very well. Keep in mind that this is still a very Nicaraguan cigar and it comes with the bite — and the buzz — typical of the breed. Like Illusione, Cruzados are not easily found, but at around 8 dollars per stick they should be in the sights of medium to full-bodied cigar fans everywhere.
Final Score: 88
Barry awards the Marelas a whopping 96 points
A nice guest review of the Marelas at Stogie Review
Doc give the Dantes a thorough physical for the Stogie Fresh 5