Fuente Don Carlos Vertical Review (Pt. 1)

afdoncarlospres

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Presidente

The Don Carlos line is one of Arturo Fuente’s “super-premium” brands, a step up from the Hemingway Series, but not quite as exalted as the Opus X. The highlight of the blend is an aged Cameroon wrapper, underneath which is a Dominican blend from the Fuente farms.

I’ve always liked this blend, but I don’t smoke it much because of the price (in the $10 -12 range).  The robusto has always been my goto Don Carlos, when my wallet has been sufficiently lined, but our friends at CigarsDirect.com were kind enough to send a sampler pack my way so I could try a few of the sizes I’ve never smoked.

Last year Lucky7 posted what I think is the definitive Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Double Robusto review –check it out for more information about the blend and the story behind it. I’m not going to try to top that review but I’m going to try my hand at a few of the other sizes in a vertical review to see how they compare with each other. First up, the No. 3 corona versus the toro-sized Presidente.

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3

The No. 3 is a typical corona: 44 x 5.5 inches long. The wrapper is attractive but marred by a mucilaginous smear, a strangely common defect in the Don Carlos line. The corona cuts cleanly and has a satisfyingly firm draw. It lights up easily, burns evenly, and builds a long and solid light gray ash.

The flavor starts out smooth and full, nutty with a minty veneer typical of Cameroon. Unlike some other Cameroon blends, afdoncarloscamthe wrapper here seems better integrated with the rest of the blend: it adds an element of spice but maintains its neutrality.

The Don Carlos corona definitely has a sweet spot in the middle third where the flavor becomes a little richer, moving from nuts to leather, and the aroma is sweet and mildly spicy. The final third heats up a bit, so you’ll have to slow down to maintain the balance and keep the taste from getting bitter.

This is a great little cigar — one of the best in its size, I think — but there may be some consistency problems, as Lisa found in her review for Her Humidor.

The Presidente, a 6.5 x 50 toro, is the largest (or at least the longest) size in the line. It displays the same construction characteristics as the Corona, including a distinctive glue smear half way down the barrel, and a neat triple cap. It lights easily on a match or two and burns without a hitch.

afdoncarlospres2

AF Don Carlos Presidente

By contrast with the corona, the Presidente has a little more kick and by the end a lot less nuance than the smaller cigar. This toro opens up with a dose of peppery tobacco — piloto cubano, perhaps — and a barely noticeable touch of Cameroon spice.

After an inch the pepper wears off and the flavors glide down into nuts and leather, but it never achieves the same smoothness as the corona. It’s not harsh by any means, but there is a spicy vibrancy here that the corona does not possess. And while the corona is a solidly medium-bodied smoke, the Presidente reaches well into the full range.

The cedary sweetness from the Cameroon rises up when the pepper dies down and stakes its claim in the middle third of the Presidente, followed by a peppery reprise from the final third to the band. In the last couple of inches the pepper gradually builds and eventually overpowers the more subtle spices, leaving a lengthy and powerful finish on the palate.

Obviously there are similarities between the Don Carlos No. 3 and the Presidente — the way the wrapper blends with the core of the cigar, adding an element of spice without being obtrusive, is common to them both. Aside from that, they smoke quite differently and might very well appeal to different kinds of smokers. The No. 3 is smooth and medium bodied with finer notes of leather and mint, whereas the Presidente is medium to full and offers lots of pepper at the start and again at the conclusion of the cigar.

Both are quality cigars, but they are as different as the youngest and oldest brothers in a large family. Sure, they resemble each other, but one might be your best friend. The other might just be your best friend’s brother.

Thanks again to CigarsDirect.com for allowing me to meet the family! Stay tuned for the next installment of the Don Carlos Vertical Review, this time featuring the Robusto and the Double Robusto.

doncarlosband

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Arturo Fuente Añejo No. 48

In September 1998 Hurricane Georges ripped through the Carribbean and caused widespread destruction, including crop damage in the Dominican Republic. Among the beseiged plantations was the now famous Chateau de la Fuente, where wrapper leaf for Fuente’s Opus X is grown and harvested.

Two years later the legacy of the storm was borne out in a shortage of Opus X wrapper, but instead of halting production altogether, Carlos Fuente Jr. directed the use of a different wrapper — a hearty maduro broadleaf. In this way improvisation triumphed over adversity and the Arturo Fuente Añejo was created.

The filler blend is said to be a combination of the blends used for Opus X, Don Carlos, and Hemingway cigars, all of which are themselves secret — which makes the Añejo blend an enigma wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a Connecticut broadleaf that has been aged for three to four years, including six to eight months in cognac barrels. (The original release used wrappers aged for seven years, hence the name Añejo, meaning aged.)

Current sizes in production:

  • No. 46 – 5 5/8 x 46
  • No. 48 – 7 x 48
  • No. 49 – 7 5/8 x 49
  • No. 50 – 5 1/4 x 50
  • No. 55 – 6 x 55
  • No. 77 “Shark” – 5 5/8 x 54

I usually try to smoke several cigars, preferably from different boxes, to prepare for a review, but in this case I was stymied by both the price and the availability of the Añejo. Typically these are released twice a year — in the summer around Father’s Day and again around the winter holidays. And even though they are reasonably priced by the manufacturer, consumer demand pushes the shelf price into the stratosphere. MSRP plus my state tax should place this stick in the $11 – 12 USD range. I paid $18 for one No. 48 last summer. That’s a bit rich for my blood, so I’m reviewing this cigar based on one single experience.

The Arturo Fuente Añejo is presented in a cedar sheath that seems to be more aromatic than most — I’m not sure if it’s by design or by accident, but it lends the wrapper an intense scent of sweet cedar. The wrapper itself is a moderately oily and rich looking oscuro.

In a pre-light pull the draw is firm to tight, and the flavor is of wood and straight sweet tobacco.

I was expecting the Añejo to be a big powerful smoke like its sibling Opus X, but this was not the case with the churchill sized No. 48. Instead what I found was a civilized and genteel cigar with an elegant perfume.

It starts up very smoothly with a good dose of sweet spice — light anise and sweet cedar. The finish is short and the aftertaste evanescent. It draws very well despite my initial pre-light impression — it’s firm, but the volume of smoke is effective and cool. The burn is even and consistent from start to finish.

The 48 doesn’t undergo a lot of transition during the course of the smoke. It grows in intensity, but it’s still playing the same song at a louder volume. Fortunately for me this is a song I really like. It starts out with moderately mild body and soon becomes medium-bodied for the duration. The last third does become a little bit richer, the spices turn from sweet aromatics to smatterings of pepper, and the aftertaste takes on a little more gravity. The finish stays crisp and clean to the band.

And from first light to last ash this cigar puts out a beautifully elegant aroma — it’s floral at times, cedary at others, and really enjoyable throughout. It reminds me a lot of the Fuente Work of Art maduro in this respect, but the Añejo is perhaps more refined. That could be due to the size difference rather than the blend, but I find the similarity unmistakeable.

I can certainly see why Lucky7 made one of the Anejo cigars his best of 2007. So far I think this is the best cigar I’ve smoked this year. But the price… Doh!

REFERENCES

Vitolas.net — a fantastic source for Fuente information and trivia.

Ashton Cabinet Belicoso

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Long ago and far away, in a distant decade called the Eighties, there was an upstart cigar brand called Ashton. Robert Levin, who had been running Holt’s Cigar Company, decided to get into the cigar manufacturing business and borrowed the Ashton name from the respected line of English pipes. The very first Ashtons were produced in the Dominican Republic by Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame, but within a few years Levin began to work with his old friends the Fuentes.

Levin and Carlos Fuente Jr. began developing the Ashton Cabinet blend in the late eighties. The story goes that Levin asked the Fuentes if they could make a Hemingway cigar with a Connecticut Shade wrapper. Carlito Fuente said they could, and after working the blend for a couple years the final result was the Ashton Cabinet cigar. The original release comprised three shaped sizes; today there are ten, including four perfectos.

Levin remarked in an interview for Cigar Aficionado that at the time of release, the Ashton Cabinet was the highest priced cigar on the market. He doesn’t say what that price was, but the original Ashton Churchill at the time sold for $2.50. My, how times have changed.

The Ashton Cabinet was developed right around the time that Tabacalera A. Fuente took over Ashton production from Tabadom. The blend includes “no less than six different tobaccos” and features a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper. The binder and filler are Dominican, and the belicoso in the line is a short torpedo at 5 1/4 inches long by a 52 ring gauge.

This little belicoso is a handsome cigar — with its finely formed head and firm roll it balances nicely in the hand. The wrapper is a smooth colorado claro typical of quality shade leaf, but I noticed in one sample that the color varied within the leaf. The section toward the foot was a slightly tawnier shade than the upper half. A little distracting, but not a serious defect.

This cigar starts up with a dry flavor that some have described as bitter, but I wouldn’t go that far. This astringency dissipates after half an inch or so, within a few pulls at most, and is replaced by a mild nutty flavor. The smoke becomes increasingly creamy, and then the distinguishing element of the Ashton Cabinet comes to light: a deliciously sweet aroma that in a strange way reminds me of bubblegum. Not as cloying as a big wad of Bazooka, but to me there is something very confectionary about it.

Into the second half the flavor gets nuttier and the creamy texture of the smoke approaches a medium body. At times a dash of pepper touches the palate and throat, but the overall impresson is smooth and sweet with some light kitchen spice.

The burn tends to be a bit erratic but is mostly self-correcting, and the draw is just about perfect. Aside from the wavery burn this stick earns good marks for appearance and construction.

The Ashton Cabinet Beli is a tad pricey at around 8 USD, and I can think of cigars that are comparable in quality that are more affordable (La Tradition Cubana comes to mind) but this is indeed a high quality premium cigar. If price isn’t a determining factor, this is certainly a cigar to try if you’re after a light to medium bodied cigar with that creamy spice one often finds with Connecticut Shade.

-cigarfan

Arturo Fuente Hemingway Work of Art Maduro

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In the 1960’s and early 70’s the Arturo Fuente company made a cigar in the style of the traditional Cuban perfecto called “Fancy Tales.” They eventually went out of production, but in the early 80’s Carlos Fuente, Jr. sparked a renaissance of the shape with the first Arturo Fuente Hemingway cigar, the 6 x 47 Signature. Carlos Fuente Sr. had learned to make this shape from his father, and to start making them again he first had to recover the original molds. After finding them in the old Ybor City factory, developing the right blend, and discovering that there was genuine interest in this old shape, the Hemingway series became a Fuente mainstay. Five years after the Signature came the Classic and Masterpiece sizes, all with the “Hemingway” perfecto foot, a mark of distinction which today is widely copied by other manufacturers.

The Work of Art is a limited edition cigar, produced in relatively small numbers and released around the holidays as a special treat for Fuente fanatics. The standard Hemingway series employs Cameroon wrapper, so the Connecticut broadleaf maduro version is an even dearer cigar. The WOAM (as it is sometimes called by Fuente followers) is not a parejo with a funny foot like the Signature or the Classic — it’s a figurado of the first order, with a pointy head and a ring gauge that graduates from 46 to a 60.

The blend is a trade secret. As Carlos Jr. explained in a Cigar Aficionado interview, the Fuente family still operates in stealth mode when it comes to guarding their “recipes”:

Q: They’re not written down?
A: They’re not written down.

Q: All your blends? That’s amazing.
A: That’s how my father taught me. We’re from the old school. Remember, I was born in a community where right next to my grandfather’s house was another cigar factory. At night, when they would have conversations, they would go, “Hush. They’re listening.”

So the only specifications available are that the filler is Dominican, as is the binder, and that is all ye need know.

Prelight

On second thought, ye need to know just a little bit more: the wrapper on this stout perfecto is rough and a little bit chipped, like an old saddle that has been well taken care of and handed down through the generations. Kind of smells like an old saddle too, or perhaps the horse that’s been saddled with it. In any case, this cigar definitely has the aura of maturity about it. The sugars from the wrapper add a soft note to the barnyard scent. After clipping the tip and taking a prelight draw I find some hay with a little sweetness.

First Half

The WOAM lights up easily, due in part to its surprisingly open draw. It tends to burn unevenly at first, but evens out with a little coaxing. The initial flavors are nutty with a sweet char. The finish is very short with a mild and clean aftertaste. This little guy produces lots of smooth smoke with every effortless draw. The aroma becomes woodier as the burn progresses and has a syrupy, molasses-like tinge to it. For the first couple of inches this is a very easygoing medium-bodied smoke.

Second Half

Due to the bulbous construction of this cigar most of it is consumed in the first half. The “sweet spot” is just at the mid-point where the flavor gets meatier, turning from smooth nutty flavors to smatterings of earth and black pepper. The aroma at this point is unreal — this is perhaps the most potently perfumey, sweet musky smoke I’ve experienced from a maduro. This is what I’m after in a stinky black stogie: something to make passersby turn around and take notice. It’s an exquisite scent.

The flavors get gradually darker as the cigar comes to a close. The finish grows to a spicy bite and finally signals the end with a dirty bitterness. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Conclusion

This is a marvelous little cigar. I rarely find much complexity in maduros, but this one has it: nuts, earth, spice, and a rich sweet aroma that invariably leaves me in a puddle. Due to the limited production (and because they’re damned good) prices tend to be inflated when they are in fact available, so be careful. Standard retail price is around 7 or 8 USD, which is extremely reasonable given the quality of the cigar.

If you like a smooth medium-bodied maduro with a lot of complexity, you’ll love this one. Keep an eye out this holiday season for this classic and elusive cigar.

-cigarfan

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos – Double Robusto

Cigar on Box Lid

Cigar Stats
Brand Owner: Fuente Cigar, Ltd.
Tabacalera: Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia – 
                       Santiago, Dominican Republic
Model/Vitola: Arturo Fuente Don Carlos – Double Robusto
Size: 5.75 x 52
Wrapper: Cameroon
Binder & Filler: Dominican Republic

Other vitola sizes available

  • # 2 — 6.0 x 44/55 (torpedo)
  • # 3 — 5.50 x 44 (corona)
  • # 4 — 5.125 x 43 (petit corona)
  • Belicoso — 5.375 x 52 (torpedo)
  • Robusto — 5.25 x 50
  • Presidente — 6.50 x 50 (toro)

All sizes are offered in boxes of 25

Summary of Ratings from Cigar Cyclopedia
This table shows composite ratings of Don Carlos cigars from multiple publications from 1995 through 2006. All ratings have been converted to a 10-point scale.

1995 Rated once — 8.90
1996 Rated twice (high of 9.3) — average 8.95
1997 Rated 3 times (one 9) — average 8.40
1998 Rated 7 times (high of 9.1) — average 8.87
1999 Rated 8 times (high of 9.2) — average 8.98
2000 Rated 8 times (high of 9.1) — average 8.45
2001 Rated 10 times (high of 9.0) — average 8.67
2002 Rated 6 times (high of 8.9) — average 8.83
2003 Rated once — 8.80
2004 Rated 4 times (two 9s) — average 9.15
2005 Rated twice (high of 8.9) — average 8.85
2006 Rated 9 times (three 9s) — average 8.99

Quote from Carlito …..

We are a family business. Our factories and our plantations comprise our family “kitchen.” By staying in the kitchen, we’re able to consistently produce outstanding tobacco leaves and rich flavored, perfectly balanced cigars that please cigar aficionados every time, everywhere. Because tobacco is in our blood, that is all my family and I aspire to achieve.

— Carlos Fuente, Jr.

The Fuente family’s tobacco roots go back to the old world Cuba of the 1800’s. The brand (Arturo Fuente) now has more than 500 torcedors making over 30 million cigars a year from their factory’s location in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Carlos Fuente and son, Carlos Jr. are celebrities in the cigar world, overseeing every step of the cigar-making process that bears their namesake. Adversity, in the form of embargoes, revolutions and four major fires, has never dampened their passion. Rather, it has strengthened their resolve to produce some of the world’s finest cigars.

Don Carlos Cigar Band

The Fuente family patriarch, Carlos Fuente Sr. spent years identifying which of their rare vintage tobaccos should be blended to produce the Don Carlos and he reserved final approval until he felt he had achieved the “perfect blend.” In every way possible, Carlos Fuente Sr. strived to attain the ultimate in rich flavor, flawless wrapper color and superior construction in each and every Don Carlos cigar. If you speak with Carlos Fuente, Jr., he certainly gives some of the credit to Richard Meerapfel (the deceased grower of Cameroon leaf) for his contribution. Today, cigar connoisseurs the world over acknowledge the Don Carlos is indeed outstanding and worthy of the title, “Pride of the Fuente Family.” Because of the select tobaccos required, and much to the chagrin of Don Carlos fans, these cigars are only available in limited quantities making them difficult to find and the prices high when you do!

Just a little side note on Cameroon leaf. Did you know after they grow a crop in Cameroon they wait six years before planting on that same land again? I guess it’s one of the things you can do when your growing area is nearly the size of France. I think that’s why Josh Meerapfel’s Cameroon (which is used on Don Carlos, La Aurora and Partagas cigars, among others) tastes so damn good! Thankfully, Josh is walking in his fathers footsteps, continuing the legacy of Cameroon tobaccos for all of us.

The Arturo Fuente Don Carlos was originally released in 1976, taken off the market when the Fuentes lost everything to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and re-introduced in 1986 for the European market. Rolling with 1984 crop tobacco, through spring of 1997 it was only available in 2 sizes (Robusto and Reserva No. 3 which was a corona extra). In an interview with Matt Matalamaki (Cigar Aficionado) late in 1997, Carlos Fuente Jr. informed us that as of early 1997 they began using tobacco from 1986 crops and would release the Presidente, Double Robusto, Reserva No. 2 and Reserva No. 4, by summer or fall of 1998. As of this writing I could not locate the release date for the Belicoso but it is indeed available.

Bottom line up front …..
The Don Carlos Double Robusto is an elegant, medium-bodied cigar, very rich in flavor. The aroma is wonderfully sweet and creamy with notes of earth, leather, oak and chestnuts. This is truly a cigar for connoisseurs IMHO and worthy of the claim of Fuente family pride they instill in this one!

Although many have told me they think it is overpriced, I have thoroughly enjoyed each one I’ve smoked and believe they are well worth the money. It’s always tough making the cost-to-pleasure decision but it is a part of cigar smoking life unless you are independently wealthy, which most of us are not. I can’t smoke these everyday, but when I am in the mood for a “desert” cigar, this one definitely makes the list for those special moments I want to celebrate.

Don Carlos Band and Wrap Closeup

Pre-light
Beautiful to look at, this stick is expertly crafted with a smooth medium brown Cameroon wrap and a well formed slightly flattened cap. Solid to the touch and very smooth on the draw, one can just imagine the care that went into rolling it. Aroma from the wrap is a light cammy scent and from the foot, slightly sweet tobacco with just a touch of horse manure. Draw was perfect with a little sweet tea remaining behind on the lips. I did detect a little spill over glue on the wrap at the edges of the band which had me worried about removing it. When I did there was a small patch of wrap that came off with the band but no effect on the draw or burn. The review cigar was in my humidor for 15 months and the age really did me good!

Seeping Glue

The Smoking Experience
The stick toasts and lights quick and even. The draw was superb and the burn was even although the burn line was tilted. The ash is almost white and holds on like crazy. I ashed the cigar only once when it was nearly to the band. I couldn’t get the band off without disturbing the ash, otherwise I think it may have made it to the nub. The rest of the ash was still on the nub when I laid it down. Smoke production is very good and stays nice and cool to the 2/3 point when it begins to warm up. I had to slow down considerably over the last couple inches to keep the flavors smooth and cool.

Don Carlos - Ash

Arturo Fuente cigars, in general, are notorious for being slow starters. Often the first half inch or so can be rough before the blend warms up. The Don Carlos wasn’t really rough to start, in fact the first few pulls were quite mild with a very subtle tobacco flavor. Then a nice Cameroon “twang” on the nose and at about a half inch it settles into a creamy base of sweet wood and leather. The flavor notes and hints that roll in and out are many. Cherry, nuts, java, caramel, oak, cinnamon and other spices to name a few. The aroma on this cigar turns wonderfully sweet at the half inch mark and remains so throughout the smoke. The final third ushers in a little pepper on the tongue which continues to build to the nub. The finish is medium in length, toasty spice and slightly dry. Need to have a nice cold drink next to you for this one.

My take …..
I like this cigar for special occasions. It has been consistent for me and ages very well. I am always looking for the special deals on Don Carlos (auctions and events) and sock them away knowing how special they will be when I decide it’s time.

 MSRP is currently listed at $231.25/25 or $9.25 per stick. The best online prices are currently at AtlanticCigar.com where you can pick up a 5ver for $42.45 ($8.49 per) and a box of 25 at $184.58 ($7.38 per). Not really that bad!

Smoke Til You're Green

Like it … Very much
Buy it again … Yes
Recommend it … Yes

What others are saying about
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos …..

April 1997
Cigar Nexus, Vol 2. No. 4 – Saka’s Monthly Officious Taste Test
AF Don Carlos Robusto

3 December 2006
MonkeyDan – CigarMonkey
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos #2

22 March 2007
Jesse – CigarJack
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos #2 Cigar Review

Top 25 Cigar – As of 20 September 2007
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Cigars Double Robusto
24 ratings – 8.61 out of 10

Publications

Summer 1995
An Interview with Carlos Fuente Sr.

November/December 1998
An Interview with Carlos Fuente Jr.
President, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.

March/April 2002
Cigar Aficionado – Douglas Doan
Essay: Great Moments
Living the Dream. Our tobacco-growing Virginian (Carlitos)
follows his fantasy to the Dominican Republic.

November/December 2002
CA Staff All-time Top Cigars
(Don Carlos has 6 positions)

10 December 2003
Cigar Aficionado – James Suckling
Havana Corner: The Loss of a Miracle Maker
(Richard Meerapfel the maestro of Cameroon/Central
African wrapper tobacco)

1 September 2005
Cigar Aficionado – David Savona
An Interview with Carlos Fuente Jr.
A decade after the introduction of the Fuente Fuente OpusX,
the cigar maker discusses its significance and what is to come

Fuente Cigar Factory Picture Tour

Date Unknown – Cigar Family News Stand
An Interview with Carlos A. Fuente Sr.
A True Saga of Perseverance and Dedication to Perfection

Wikipedia on Arturo Fuente (the cigar brand)

The Cigar Family Website on Don Carlos

 Don Carlos Edición de Aniversario Band

The 30th Anniversary edition of the Don Carlos
Don Carlos Edición de Aniversario

Among the first cigars rolled by Arturo Fuente
The Tampa Sweethearts


… lucky7

“It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep,
and never to refrain when awake.” (Mark Twain)

Chateau Fuente King B

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The Chateau Fuente King B is a large Belicoso — hence King B — but hiding quietly behind this name is a memory of a place in Ybor City, Florida, where cigar makers used to gather to smoke and play dominoes. Carlos Fuente, Jr. remembers when he was a child that the King B was a sort of tavern for the locals in the industry located behind his grandfather Arturo’s house. The King B no longer exists in Ybor City, having been lost to time and the development of a highway, but its memory has been enshrined in the name of this cigar.

The Chateau Fuente King B debuted at the RTDA in 2005 as a limited (though not really rare) addition to the Chateau Fuente line. All of these cigars are notable for their sun-grown Ecuadorian wrappers and distinctive black ribbons. The filler and binder are Dominican, but that’s all the detail we’re going to get about the composition of this coveted cigar.

This is the fifth entry in the Chateau Fuente series, joining the standard rothschild, toro, and double corona sizes. (There is also a smaller 5.75 x 52 Cuban Belicoso.) The King B is 6 inches in length by a 55 ring gauge and like the other Chateaus it comes in a cedar sleeve. They’re packed 18 to the box and sell for around 8 or 9 USD by the stick.

Beneath the cedar this torpedo reveals a smooth rosado wrapper with the widely spaced veins typical of Ecuadorian leaf. The roll is solid and the cap is a perfectly finished point. There are some small dots of what I think is sap from the cedar sleeve on the wrapper. They aren’t large enough to worry about though, so after a few moments of admiration I clipped the tip to an aperture of about half an inch.

The draw is excellent and the burn was even all the way to the band. I expect great construction from Fuente, and that’s what I got. No complaints there.

This sturdy belicoso starts up with a delicate and woody aroma that lingers for the duration of the cigar. At first it doesn’t seem quite as strong as the aroma of the rothschild size, but the King B takes a while to warm up. The intial flavor is unremarkable — mild straightforward tobacco, pleasant but nondescript. I was a little surprised by this, but I continued to enjoy the sweet cedary aroma rising from the foot and gave it some time.

About half way through the cigar it becomes a little more flavorful, slightly tannic, with very little aftertaste. The smoke is medium in body and has a pretty good nicotine kick, but so far is lacking the flavor to match.

At the two thirds point, the spice and pepper that I expected (based on the other sizes in the Chateau series) finally kicked in. It’s not what I would call complex, but it’s a little more than the simple nutty Dominican tobacco flavor I was getting up to that point. The tannins started to build in the last stretch so I removed the band and after a few more desperate puffs I put the butt to bed.

I have to say I was mildly disappointed in this cigar. I really enjoy the rothschild size in this line and I was expecting something along those lines but BIGGER. Instead what I found was a slow starter with a similar but flatter flavor profile. Same great aroma, perfect construction, but not the royal figure I expected to find. Not the King, in any case. Maybe the very amiable young Prince trying out the crown and scepter.

Ashton Virgin Sun Grown Belicoso No. 1

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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.)