This year marks the quasquicentennial anniversary (that’s 125 years) of the Gurkha brand name, and Beach Cigar Group, the maker of Gurkha cigars, has marked the occasion by changing its name. The manufacturer of “the world’s most expensive cigar” is now the Gurkha Cigar Group. It’s a sensible name change, and for a company well versed in the subtle art of branding it seems a long time coming.
A few other changes have occurred at Gurkha in the past year — a new president and CEO is at the helm (Gary Hyams, formerly of CAO), and a new subsidiary brand was launched: East India Trading Company. And while the company still produces very high end “luxury” cigars like the cognac-infused His Majesty’s Reserve, they have renewed efforts to engage the unwashed masses, represented here by yours truly.
Three new blends released last year at the 2011 IPCPR were geared toward the retail market, and for the moment this one appears to still be a brick-and-mortar exclusive. The Gurkha Cellar Reserve utilizes a Criollo 98 wrapper, a Dominican Olor binder, and filler which includes 15 year-old Nicaraguan Criollo.
In line with the “cellar” theme, this cigar arrives in a box that is ribbed like a wine barrel. (I don’t always like Gurkha blends, but Hansotia’s baroque boxes are the best in the business.) The bands are just as odd and beautiful, though in this case the information is a little bit confusing.
The “blend strength” is labeled on the band as 97.6%. This inevitably prompts the question: 97.6% of what? I also have to admit some confusion at the “Dominican Puro” statement. The cigar is made in the Cuevas factory in the Dominican Republic, but according to Gurkha’s press release it is not a Dominican puro. Maybe it’s best to see the band as graphic art rather than a source of salient information. In any case, the Cellar Reserve is produced in five sizes:
Perfecto “Koi” – 4 x 58
Doble Robusto “Solaro” – 5 x 58
Gran Rothschild “Hedonism” – 6 x 58
Churchill “Prisoner” – 7 x 54
XO “Kraken” – 6 x 60
The Prisoner is, to my mind, more of a double corona than a churchill. This is a cannon of a cigar, and with its somewhat veiny and dark colorado maduro wrapper it’s a serious looking stick. The head is nicely formed. The cap is not a work of art but shears cleanly and does its job. The large band has the effect of minimizing the size of the cigar, or putting it into a different perspective somehow. Optical illusions aside, this is a good 1.5 to 2 hour smoke.
I’ve smoked five or six of these now and each one has shown excellent construction. The cigar feels a bit light in the hand, but that is no indication of its burning characteristics, which are generally slow, even, and cool. Each time I ashed this cigar it fell into the ashtray like a fat piece of chalk.
Overall construction: excellent.
The Prisoner starts up with a sweet grassy flavor but after a puff or two the oaky-vanilla aroma begins to remind me of the wine cellar theme of this cigar. The smoke is smooth but somewhat dry on the palate. After a minute or two the base flavor turns from sweet and grassy to roasted nuts.
After about twenty or thirty minutes the flavors begin to deepen without venturing into any new territory. The aftertaste grows slightly peppery, and the strength becomes more evident. The oaky-vanilla aroma is still the highlight of the cigar.
Into the third section the Prisoner is a consistent and straight-forward cigar without a lot of complexity. The aroma is very pleasant, and by the last third it delivers a pretty good kick. It starts to char near the band and after that becomes a little too sharp to smoke. But after 90 minutes I am ready to call it a night anyway.
Gurkha’s Cellar Reserve is an enjoyable cigar but it lacks the kind of complexity I was hoping for. I might smoke this one again in a smaller size because the flavors are good, but 90 minutes of plain ol’ good can still get a bit monotonous. The price is a little bit high for me as well — MSRP runs from $8 to $10 for this line. I was fortunate enough to recieve these samples from Gurkha, so I won’t complain about the price… but if I had to shell out the retail I might hesitate a little.
Final Score: 87