CAO Pilon Robusto

Released in 2015, CAO’s Pilón cigar is named for an important part of the tobacco fermentation process. After tobacco leaves have been harvested and dried they are moved from the curing barn to undergo a “sweating” process. The tobacco hands are piled up and allowed to partially decompose. The tobacco in the pile (or pilón) heats up and goes through a complicated chemical transformation — the tobacco gives off ammonia and carbon dioxide, alkaloids like nicotine decrease, and the leaves start to develop the flavors and aromas that are typical of black tobacco. (More on the chemistry involved in this process can be found here.)

CAO Pilon

Pilónes in most modern factories are large quadrilateral bales.  For the Pilón, CAO is using an old Cuban technique in which hands of tobacco are carefully arranged in circular piles. The skeptic in me wants to ask: What’s the effective difference between a square pile and a round pile? A pile’s a pile, right?  My guess is that a smaller more manipulable pilon allows for more control over the keys to tobacco oxidation: heat, humidity, and air circulation. The piles must be periodically taken apart and reconstructed in order to control these elements, and perhaps a circular pilon gives the curador more control.

In any case, the developers of Pilón — CAO’s Rick Rodriguez and General Cigar’s Agustin Garcia — have been experimenting with this technique for several years, and if they say it makes a difference I will take their word for it.  The cigar itself is a Nicaraguan blend with an Ecuadorian Habano capa. The Pilón is made in Esteli, Nicaragua in three standard sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Corona –   5 1/2 x 44

Construction Notes

The Pilon robusto is a rustic-looking cigar with a slightly oily wrapper that is maduro in color and appearance. The cigar is firm in the hand and is finished with a round head and functional cap that takes a guillotine cut with no complaint. The draw is easy, and the burn is even and slow.

I tend to think of cigar bands as purely ornamental and of little concern, but the band on the Pilon is exceptional in one respect: it reports the blend composition. I have no use for gold leaf and intricate graphic artistry, but give me some information right on the cigar and you’ll get my vote every time.

Overall construction: Very good.

CAO Pilon 2

Tasting Notes

The Pilon starts out woody and very clean on the palate. It gradually develops some astringency and reveals typically Nicaraguan characteristics, but in the beginning it is fairly mild-mannered. The texture at this point is even a bit creamy.

An inch or so into the cigar and the woody aroma starts to take on a more coffee-like aroma, a nice medium roast rather than that undrinkable burnt stuff.  A cedary overtone is still present, accompanied by a hint of cinnamon. The coffee beans finally give way to a slightly sweet caramel note, until the spice takes over.

I found the last third of the cigar to be a bit harsh; the subtleties of the first third and the complex flavors of the middle section are completely swallowed up a sharp peppery spice, joined by char at the end. I thought I might have been smoking too fast, but on my second try I slowed my pace intentionally and encountered the same phenomenon. It isn’t overly potent, just a little pugnacious on the palate.

CAO Pilon 3

Conclusion

CAO’s Pilón is a surprisingly complex cigar for the price, which is around $4.50 a pop. It turns a bit grumpy in the last third, but this may even out with a little aging, or it may be intentional — I’ve met more than a few devotees of the mean-ass cigar, so maybe the Pilon was blended to end with a nice poke in the eye. I’ll be trying this in the other sizes to see if that makes a difference, and maybe putting a few away for a while. The first two-thirds are really exceptional for the price.

Final Score: 88

Rocky Patel Luxury Collection Sampler

The folks at Holt’s Cigar Company were kind enough to send me this Rocky Patel Sampler, and even though it did not widen my smoke-filled horizons in any considerable fashion, I am happy to repay the favor with a few honest words on some classic cigars. Okay, they’re not all classics, but I’d say the RP Decade and the Vintage 1990 have achieved that status by virtue of their quality and longevity.  Augmenting these are a Holt’s house brand — the Ocean Club;  one that I think might also be a house brand — the Velvet Edition; and my current goto proletarian workhorse — Renaissance.

RP Luxury Sampler

The Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 was first reviewed for this blog in 2006, so I thought it would be interesting to compare notes from ten years ago. The toro in the Luxury Sampler is a pressed cigar, maduro in shade with a slightly oily sheen. Unless the recipe has changed, this is a broadleaf wrapper grown in Honduras. Construction qualities are excellent across the board.  My tasting notes from this time around are “Cedar, chocolate and dried cherry. Medium body.” Ten years ago I wrote:

It’s a medium bodied smoke that I find extremely smooth up to the finish when it gets a bit heavier and the taste turns slightly tarry. The predominating flavors are wood and cherry. The broadleaf is very aromatic and worth the price of admission alone.

RP Vintage 1990

And it’s still true. Rocky churns out new blends every year, but the Vintage 1990 is still one of my favorites.

The Ocean Club is a Holt’s exclusive. With a colorado claro Nicaraguan wrapper, Mexican binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the DR, the Ocean Club is remarkably distinctive for a house blend.  Like the Vintage 1990 the toro comes in a pressed format and exhibits excellent construction.

RP Ocean Club

The cigar is well named — the salty character of the smoke calls the sea to mind. The primary flavor is earthy and vegetal, accented by a floral aroma. In the mid-section there is a minty taste that made me think there might be a touch of Cameroon in the mix, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is a refreshing and welcome addition to the mix of earth and salt.

RP Velvet

The Velvet Edition is presented in the round and features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper that is largely responsible for the creamy (velvety?) body of the cigar. It’s a mild to medium bodied cigar with a gentle demeanor. None of the filler tobaccos overwhelm the subtle wrapper aroma, which is a good thing. There is some light caramel and a hint of coffee that blends to create a latte sweetness. A nice morning smoke.

RP Decade

Decade is another classic that doesn’t require much of an introduction. The blend is undisclosed, but the star of the show is a dark chocolate colored Sumatra wrapper from Ecuador. This one is pressed and burns as beautifully as one could expect. The flavors are sweet and earthy, reminiscent of ye olde peat bog. The smoke is smooth with an acidic tang and offers up a rich aroma of coffee and cedar. I mostly agree with my 2009 review:

There are some cherry notes mingling with the char, and a bittersweet chocolate aftertaste…The center section features an acidic tang that I always associate with Nicaraguan tobacco… the chocolate and cocoa flavors remind me a lot of the Olde World Reserve… The aroma is sweet and woody. The last third continues along the same trajectory, rich and rife with bean flavors: chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.

I’m so happy I agree with myself, but I have to admit that I didn’t notice the cherry notes this time around.

The final entry in the Luxury Sampler is not a classic cigar exactly, but it might be the best deal around right now. The Renaissance, a reincarnation of the Edge Sumatra, has been a catalog centerfold for more than one company lately, and I, for one, am not complaining. It’s a stellar cigar for the asking price.

RP Rennaissance

I’ve been smoking the Renaissance for the past couple of years in the robusto and corona sizes, and the Toro performs equally well. My notes this time around include cinnamon and cedar on the nose, a crisp clean aftertaste, and a zingy bite on the tongue. Six years ago my thoughts on the robusto ran along similar lines:

…a piney aroma with fruity notes; the cherry that comes through reminds me a lot of the Decade. There is a touch of chocolate and a sweet spice — not pepper — that is easy on the palate.  The aftertaste is pleasant and mild… smooth and genteel with an excellent aroma and no bite.  The smoke is medium in body, with moderate nicotine.

I never thought I’d be tagging the Vintage 1990 or Decade as “bargain cigars,” but that’s what I’m doing, because the Rocky Patel Luxury Sampler is now only $29.95 at Holt’s. Three bucks a stick. That’s kind of nuts… but my kind of nuts. In addition to being a fantastic deal, this is the perfect sampler for a new smoker who wants an introduction to the Rocky Patel oeuvre. These are easy smoking cigars, at an even easier price.

Illusione *R* Rothchildes

Illusione Rothchildes A

According to Richard Hacker’s Ultimate Cigar Book, the first Rothschild cigar was produced by Hoyo de Monterrey in the late 19th century in response to a request from the London-based financier, Leopold de Rothschild. He wanted a short cigar with a large ring gauge that would smoke like a full-sized cigar, but in a shorter amount of time. Since then, many cigar makers have produced cigars in this size, though stumpy cigars have often been assigned the moniker “Robusto” instead. Nevertheless, the Rothschild persists — sometimes as Rothchild, or Rothchilde, or in the case of Illusione’s entry: Rothchildes.

Due to their power and wealth, the Rothschild family has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories over the years, from currency manipulation to presidential assassination. And as we know, the Illusione mystique relies in part on the shadowy world of conspiracy theory. Therefore we should ask the question: why the misspelling? Why Rothchildes, and not Rothschilds? What is the significance of the missing S, and the added E? Is there a hidden meaning?

But we also know that the Illusione mystique does not rely on conspiracy theory alone; it also relies on premium quality Nicaraguan tobacco, specifically Aganorsa tobacco. This quality is apparent from the first puff on the *R* Rothchildes, and the flavor is quintessential Illusione. The binder and filler leaves are Aganorsa grown, and the wrapper is a nicely processed maduro leaf from the San Andres Valley of Mexico.

Illusione Rothchildes 2

Construction Notes

The Rothchildes are rustic in appearance with rough maduro wrappers and single caps slapped on heads that are sometimes a little uneven. The throw-back bands blend well with the rough appearance of the wrappers. The roll is solid, though the cigar feels a little light — perhaps it’s this desert winter air, the nemesis of my humidor. But any worries about underhumidification are dispelled by a draw that offers the right amount of resistance and an even, steady burn.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The first third of the cigar is marked by the clean crisp flavor that is Illusione’s stock in trade. Hardwood smoke with a cherry edge. If I didn’t know what this cigar was and had to guess, I might have to say La Riqueza.

A peppery spice builds as the cigar grows in complexity.  The flavor on the palate gradually loses its crispness and becomes earthier, and the cherry on the nose transitions to cocoa.

In the final stretch the cocoa loses its sweetness and the earth turns darker and sharper; the smoke bites a little, but doesn’t bitter.

Illusione Rothchildes 3

Conclusion

The Rothchildes bear more than a passing resemblance to the veteran blends in the Illusione family: the clean woody flavor of Aganorsa tobacco is prominent and distinguishing, and the subtle cherry flavor that appears in the first section is an unexpected bonus.

And while they’re not quite as complex as the pedigreed Original Documents, they have a particularly redeeming characteristic: a price tag under $5 USD.  A tall price is frequently an indicator of premium quality, but it’s not a requirement, as Illusione *R* Rothchildes ably demonstrate.

Final Score: 91

El Suelo & Trocadero from L’Atelier

L'Atelier bundles

With the introduction of the El Suelo and Trocadero cigar lines, Pete Johnson said, “I want to show people that I can make a great inexpensive cigar.” This reflects poorly on the Tatuaje Series P cigar, a mixed-filler econo stick which has been around for years.  I suppose I agree — the Series P is not a great cigar, but it is inexpensive, and evidently people buy it.  But I’m not sure it’s deserving of the Tatuaje brand name. When I think Tatuaje or L’Atelier, I don’t think blue-collar yard ‘gar, but at least it’s a niche they haven’t filled yet.

Both El Suelo and Trocadero fall under the L’Atelier umbrella (rather than Tatuaje) and are made by the Garcia family — not at My Father, but at the “other” factory — the TACUBA factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. These appear to be sister blends, so I’m going to review them together. The bands are similar in design — very simple bands that recall the golden age of cigars, when men were men and cigar bands were not suitable for framing.

El Suelo and Trocadero are distinguished mostly by the wrapper leaf. The former is a swarthy fellow with an Habano Oscuro capa, while Trocadero utilizes a much lighter Habano Rosado. Both are Ecuadorian in origin, and both cigars use Connecticut broadleaf and Nicaraguan tobaccos for binder and filler. Their sizes differ a little bit though:

El Suelo:

Terreno 5 1/4 x 56
Prado 5 3/4 x 58
Campo 6 1/4 x 60

Trocadero:

Cambon: 5 1/4 x 52
Honore: 5 3/4 x 56
Montaigne: 6 1/4 x 60

El Suelo means “the ground” in Spanish, and the sizes are agricultural terms for types of fields (as far as I can tell).  Trocadero, on the other hand, is an area of Paris, and the frontmarks are Parisian street names. I’m not sure what the significance of Paris is, but I suppose it’s congruent with a company called L’Atelier.

Construction Notes

Both cigars are attractive and exhibit excellent construction. The Trocadero is dry with fine veins and a slightly toothy wrapper. El Suelo is also dry in appearance but much darker. The wrapper almost looks like broadleaf.  The cap of the Trocadero Terreno is not picture perfect, but still perfectly functional, and the tip of the Suelo belicoso is finely finished. Both cigars are solidly rolled and burn evenly.

Overal excellent construction, particularly for bundle cigars.

Trocadero

Tasting Notes

Both Trocadero and El Suelo are mild to medium in body and strength, but the Trocadero is a much more earthy and tannic cigar, while El Suelo is sweeter.

Both cigars have an astringent quality, but Trocadero is actually bitter on the palate. (I hesitate to use the word “bitter” but in this case I think it’s warranted.) As the cigar burns the flavors settle in the earthy range with a slightly minty aftertaste. The aroma is nice though — mildly floral with a pleasingly creamy aspect.

El Suelo steers away from earthy flavors and opts for familiar Nicaraguan territory: wood smoke. There is a burnt sugar or cotton candy-like overtone in the first half which is gradually overtaken by spice as the cigar burns to the band.  Notes of coffee and cocoa are prominent on the nose. This cigar reminds me a lot of the Carlos Torano Signature blend, which is of course more expensive than this bundle smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these L’Atelier blends are made exceedingly well, and I think they are better than Tatuaje’s current budget option, the Series P.  In the $3-4 range, they are certainly good value cigars, though the avid Tatuaje or L’Atelier adherent will no doubt be disappointed by a lack of complexity.

I was pleasantly surprised by El Suelo in particular. The Trocadero was a little too dry for me, but I’d be happy to have a few Suelos in the humidor. I know it’s not high praise exactly, but these are above average yard ‘gars.

El Suelo

Final Scores:

El Suelo: 87

Trocadero: 83

Vallejuelo Robusto

Vallejuelo is best known for its nomination as one of Cigar Aficionado’s Best Bargain cigars of 2010. The Robusto Gordo scored 93 points, along with CAO’s La Traviata Divino and La Aroma de Cuba Robusto. I do not subscribe wholeheartedly to CA’s opinion, but I respect it like any other opinion, and I’m always interested in a bargain. So I began my quest for Vallejuelo.

So I searched and searched in my local shops, made inquiries, but finally came up empty handed. Eventually I got distracted by other developments in the cigar world and the brand fell off my horizon.

A few weeks ago I was reminded by a reader about the Vallejuelo brand and while placing an order for some other things saw that Atlantic Cigar now carries them. They’re not expensive, and they fit in my shopping basket nicely.

Vallejuelo is made by Intercigar, a Dominican company established by Dutch cigar impresario Maurice Antonius Koks. Intercigar also makes a budget brand called Antonius, and judging from their website they also make private label cigars for independent retailers. Vallejuelo was originally designed for the Swiss market as a less expensive alternative to Cuban cigars. They are certainly less expensive. In other respects it’s setting the bar very high, but we’ll just have to see if they stand up to the Behike.

Vallejuelo features a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend of fillers, a Dominican binder, and an Habano wrapper grown in Ecuador. There appear to be four sizes in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Robusto Gordo – 5 x 54
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 54
  • Gordo – 6 x 60

The name “Vallejuelo” means small valley.

Construction Notes

Take the band off a Vallejuelo robusto and it might be confused for half a dozen other high-quality smokes featuring triple-wrapped heads. The wrapper is a dark golden brown with a nice sheen. Pressing the cigar reveals a hard pack with almost no give, but the draw is open and the cigar burns at a leisurely pace. The ash is slightly flaky, but it holds.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

This is a very much a Nicaraguan style cigar. It opens with a brash dose of black pepper and then mellows into an earthy, but somewhat sharp smoke.

After the initial spice of the Vallejuelo wears away, the mid-section slides into a potent mixture of earth and wood. The wrapper adds a note of cocoa and a touch of sweetness to the mix.

The finale of the cigar is a return to the first third as the pepper makes a brief comeback and the smoke gets down and dirty. I’d classify this cigar as medium in body but full in strength. It’s one of those cigars that throws me back in my chair like the guy in that old Maxell ad. Just sub in a lawn chair and put him in the back yard.

Conclusion

Vallejuelo is a tasty Nicaraguan-style cigar with a good thump. The robusto is a strong and earthy smoke with a subtle aroma, and that’s not easy to find in this price range. Its only flaw is some harshness that might fade a bit with age.

Is Vallejuelo a reasonable alternative to Cuban cigars? Not exactly. But at $4.00 a stick it’s a less expensive alternative to many of the high-end cigars coming out of Nicaragua these days. I’ll be looking for this one in a couple other sizes to see if I can get the same flavor at a slightly lower voltage level.

Final Score: 89

Padilla 1948 Edicion Limitada Robusto

So what’s up with Cigars International and Padilla? In the past few months we’ve seen a number of “small batch” and “limited” edition Padillas for sale at prices so low it should be illegal. I reviewed the Miami Maduro limited edition a few weeks ago and found it to be a decent smoke — even a very good one, considering the price. In the meantime I’ve smoked all of the other small batch sticks and thought they were decent as well — not stellar, but better than their two-dollar price tag would suggest.

So when I saw the Padilla 1948 getting the same treatment, I jumped. The ’48 was my goto Padilla back when Pepin was making this stick, so at 40 bucks for a mazo of 20 it seemed like a no-brainer.

But then I read on one of the boards that this cigar uses short filler. This was after I had pulled the trigger, of course, but I was a little peeved because the description of the cigar specifically stated it was long-filler. On the other hand, what do you expect for 2 dollars? I decided that I should postpone judgement until I could perform a little personal investigation.

According to CI, this is a long-filler Nicaraguan puro with a Habano wrapper. Like the Miami Maduro Edicion Limitada, this one is issued in the 5 x 50 robusto size only.

The first one I smoked burned well and tasted fine up to the mid-point where it suddenly got very sharp tasting. But what really concerned me was the ash. After half an inch it plummeted to the floor without the slightest prompting. And then again, after another half-inch or so. Damn, I thought. This probably is short filler. To satisfy my curiosity, and for the benefit of my three readers, I had to conduct a post-mortem. The results weren’t pretty, and I like pretty pictures, so I sacrificed a fresh stick for the purposes of demonstration.

Below you can see the wrapper, carefully incised and removed. It’s a nice looking wrapper — dark and oily, just like the ad copy says.

Next, the binder. Not so nice looking, but neither is your connective tissue.

And finally, the heart of the issue. La Tripa. Findings: Long Filler.

Construction Notes

The biggest problem with this cut-rate ’48 is consistency in construction. Some of them draw perfectly but a few were almost plugged. One had the odd ash issue, mentioned above, which resulted in the ash falling unaccountably every half-inch. But most of them (4 out of 5, lets say) were just fine.

The wrapper on this limitada robusto is rustic, but still rich looking. The roll is solid, and every one has burned slowly and evenly. The caps are uniformly sloppy, which is a surprise to see next to a Padilla band, but aesthetics aside they perform their assigned function. The ash holds firm, though sometimes it cracks and makes idle threats.

Overall construction: Good, but with concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

The Padilla ’48 Edicion Limitada doesn’t have the smoothness or complexity of the ’48 I remember from back in the Pepin days, but it showcases cocoa in a way that is reminiscent of the old blend. There is a little bit of black pepper up front, but the base flavors are earth and wood. Toward the middle of the cigar it picks up a musky note, but the best thing about the cigar is the cocoa and coffee on the nose. It’s about medium in body, lighter than most of Padilla’s standard lines.

I have had trouble getting past the band on these because the flavor drops off and turns ashy if smoked too quickly. If I had the time to nurse it I’d probably get more out this robusto, but for 2 dollars I’m content to smoke it halfway and grab another if I have the time.

Conclusion

The wrapper on this cigar is quite good, lending a cocoa-coffee base to the smoke that seals the deal. Granted, it’s not a Trump-sized deal. But what do you expect for 2 bucks a stick?

You could do worse.

Final Score: 83

Padilla Miami Maduro “Edicion Limitada”

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. The truism is never more apt than in the cigar world. The earnest gentleman on the boardwalk who swears those Cuban Cohibas are genuine and that he’s willing to part with them for only $200 a box? Think again. Most of us are not so gullible, but at the same time we like to think that we know a good deal when we see one.  Online vendors use good marketing tactics to take advantage of this natural impulse.

An interesting post appeared recently on The Velvet Cigar questioning this practice, and it’s well worth reading.  Like the author of that post, I am a regular and mostly satisfied customer of Cigars International. I can neither confirm nor deny any of Ironmeden’s facts, but from time to time I think we’ve all harbored suspicions  about those “exclusive” blends from upper tier cigar makers. The question is unavoidable: why would a reputable producer of premium cigars which normally sell in the 10 dollar range suddenly decide to make a 3 dollar cigar for a discount vendor?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but as an intrepid aficionado of the cheap smoke I’m willing to throw the dice. So here I go again.

The Padilla Miami Maduro “Edicion Limitada” is a Cigars International exclusive, along with three other “small batch” blends that are all packaged together and sold as a sampler pack. The Miami Maduro doesn’t appear to be available apart from this sampler.

There is no official information available on the blend that I could find. It would be highly irregular for a Padilla smoke to be anything other than mostly Nicaraguan, but again there is no official information available. (There is ad copy information on the CI site, but it is as useless as it is trite.) There is only one size, to my knowledge: this 5 x 50 robusto.

Construction Notes

At first glance, this cigar has substandard construction. The roll is slightly soft and the cigar is misshapen. The caps on some of them are okay, others are pretty sloppy. One of them was actually peeling off. The wrapper leaf is consistent though, and the burn is even and fairly slow. I can easily forgive some aesthetic flaws if the cigar draws and burns well, so I’ll let those slide. But I seriously doubt that this cigar was made in Miami.

Overall construction: Good.

Tasting Notes

The Miami Maduro flames up with a peppery assault on the palate, followed soon after by an aroma of dark chocolate on the nose. It’s much better than I expected it to be. After an inch or so this is clearly a full body cigar.

The pepper dies away after an inch or so and the chocolate flavors mellow out to cocoa. Some char is added to the sweet bean flavors, layered over a woody underpinning. There isn’t a whole lot of complexity here, but there’s plenty of flavorful smoke.

The back half of the cigar is more of the same, but the flavor gets a little more concentrated — chocolate and char. It turns somewhat burnt tasting at the band.

Conclusion

The Padilla Miami Maduro is in this formulation a decent smoke, but it lacks the complexity of the Padilla Miami I’m accustomed to. This may be due to the wrapper, or it may be due to the blend as a whole. I don’t think I could distinguish this cigar from one of Plasencia’s better maduros, which is not necessarily a criticism, considering that I paid only two dollars for it. This is one instance where price really does make the difference.

Final Score: 85