First of all, thanks to the folks at Isabela cigars who were kind enough to send me a sampler pack of their Isabela Miami blend in robusto and esplendido sizes. According to the promotional material, Isabela was designated the “Best of Miami 2008” by Ocean Drive Magazine and has recieved 4-star ratings from both Smoke Magazine and Cigar! Cigar! Magazine, so I was looking forward to testing them out myself.
Isabela cigars are blended by Vicente Ortiz, who was born in Cuba and reportedly had a hand in the original Cuban Cohiba blend (hence the “homage” to that famous brand in the Isabela design.) This brand should not be confused with the Phillipine made “Flor de la Isabela;” this cigar is made in Miami by Ortiz and was named for Vicente’s daughter Isabela. With a total of only three experienced cigar makers, including Vicente himself, this is definitely a “boutique” operation.
One of the interesting details about this blend is that each size has a slightly different composition. Four sizes are currently made:
- Robusto – Honduran wrapper and filler
- Esplendido – (churchill) Dominican wrapper with Hon/Nic filler blend
- Belicoso Fino – Honduran wrapper with Hon/Nic filler blend
- Torpedo – Connecticut wrapper with DR/Hon filler blend
I had the opportunity to smoke both the Robusto and the Esplendido sizes, and while they seemed to be roughly similar, they each smoked just a little bit differently.
The robusto is a nicely packed cigar with a fine semi-glossy wrapper. Examining the foot of the cigar, the bunch appears to be solid and consistent with no evidence of stems. The cap is applied well (though the Esplendido’s triple cap was a little more attractive) and after clipping I found the draw to be spot on perfect.
Up0n taking an initial pre-light draw I was struck by the sweetness of the cap. Evidently the rollers use a sugar cane-based gum rather than a neutral tasting adhesive to finish the heads on these cigars. It’s been a while since I smoked a cigar like this — not since I unwittingly picked one up in a small Vegas tourist joint on the strip many moons ago. It’s generally not what I prefer, but I decided to keep an open mind about that aspect while I sampled these Isabelas.
The robusto is a very mild flavored, easy smoking cigar. Its starts up a little grassy and gradually takes on a nutty profile. The aroma is quite pleasant, adding a distinctly floral quality to the smoke. I would have guessed this to be a Connecticut Shade or Ecuadorian wrapper, but I’m told it is fact Honduran.
The middle section of the robusto continues on the same road, with herbal and nutty flavors on the palate and a sweet aroma on the nose. Perhaps it’s due to the mildness of the smoke, but the sweet cap started to get on my nerves. I tried to ignore it, but it proved to be a bigger distraction than I thought it would be. So I thought of a solution: this ring gauge, I figured, would fit perfectly in the bowl of one of my pipes. That way I could enjoy the rest of the smoke without the sugar on the cap contaminating my palate.
Unfortunately that solution was not entirely successful. The cigar smoked well enough, but I was losing the aroma. And that last bowl of Penzance probably didn’t help any.
In any case, I finished this cigar –and a couple more– the old fashioned way, and enjoyed its transition in the last third to an earthier flavor with a touch of pepper on the nose. The sweetness let up a little in the last third, which was welcome.
The Esplendido size shares many of the robusto’s fine qualities, with a couple exceptions. The wrapper is a little drier, more papery looking than the robusto, and the roll is not quite as solid. On the other hand, the caps on these sticks are gorgeous. They have the same excellent draw and burn as the robusto size.
The Esplendido is likewise a fairly mild smoke, with a very smooth and approachable flavor. By contrast with the robusto the flavor is earthier and instead of the robusto’s sweet, floral aroma the Esplendido is musky. Once again, however, I was distracted by the sweetness of the cap. I thought this time I would try to simply remove the offending extremity by clipping off an inch from the head of the cigar, just to see what would happen.
Alas, this was not very effective either. The gum that the rollers use must extend up the shank of the cigar. On the other hand, my stogie surgery afforded me an opportunity to observe how well crafted these cigars are — I was still able to smoke this stick to the band without it uravelling or coming apart.
The middle section of the Esplendido is smooth with a medium-bodied smoke texture; from the initial earthy flavors it develops some cedar. This cigar has no bite whatsoever, and very little aftertaste. It is what I’d characterize as light in flavor, but it still has a little kick to it.
The last third becomes increasingly earthy and I found I had to smoke it carefully at this point to avoid a bitter aftertaste. The finish grows substantially, but never gets oppressive. There is an interesting licorice or anise quality in the last couple inches.
More than anything I was impressed by the construction of these sticks, and were it not for the sweetened tips I think I would have enjoyed them much more. Aside from my personal preference, I think the sugar masked or obscured some of the more delicate qualities of the tobacco. Overlooking that detail, I think the aroma and easy going nature of these cigars would make them great morning or mid-day smokes. I think this blend has potential.
Isabela Cigars are available for purchase from their website. The robustos run around 6.50 USD and the Esplendidos about a buck more.
Isabela Robusto: 84
Isabela Esplendido: 82