A couple months ago Gordon Mott of Cigar Aficionado penned a blog post about the misleading use of cigar ratings in advertising. This was prompted by one manufacturer in particular who cited a 93 rating to promote a cigarillo line. The problem is that the rating was for a toro-sized cigar made by the same company 20 years ago. Unfair? Misleading? Of course it is. But if anyone should know something about smoke and mirrors, it’s a cigar aficionado.
Even if the advertising were for the same cigar, the use of that rating would still be questionable. Only the largest cigar companies are able to maintain the huge libraries of tobacco necessary to create the same blends, year after year. In many cases this just isn’t possible, especially with smaller boutique brands.
Take one of the great cigar success stories as an example. Ten years ago, Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia was virtually unknown outside the circles of cigar geeks who read blogs like this. El Rey de Los Habanos was just one of the many small shops that populated Miami’s Calle Ocho neighborhood, but they were making cigars like none other, and consumers quickly caught on. The Miami operation couldn’t keep up with demand, and after a change in name and a move to Esteli, Nicaragua, My Father Cigars now operates a huge facility that rivals that of many long established cigar companies.
While they still make stellar cigars (some better than others) I would hesitate to call My Father “boutique” at this point in time. They are not the same company they were ten years ago, and they aren’t using the same tobacco. And yet… the Don Pepin brand name remains the same, and some fans of the brand still think of it as a boutique label. So the question is this: when I pick up a DPG Blue Label in my local cigar shop and think about that potent blast of black pepper and the cocoa and the caramel of that brilliant Nicaraguan Corojo — am I living in the past?
I thought I might try a little experiment to test that hypothesis. Digging into the deepest recesses of my dwindling supply of aging cigars, I found DPG Blue Labels from three different years. Unfortunately they were not all the same size, but at least they represent the DPG Blue over a significant period of time: a robusto from 2006, a torpedo from 2009, and another robusto of recent vintage. All three cigars received the same treatment and were smoked under the same torrid desert conditions.
There are some minor differences in appearance, but all three are well made cigars. Both the 2006 and 2013 robustos have wrappers that are fairly dry and leathery in appearance, in contrast to the torpedo, which is noticeably more oily and smooth. All three are a little bit bumpy, but solid, and they all exhibit a firm but productive draw.
The biggest surprise was the way the 2013 robusto is finished. Early on, DPG became famous for the way his cigars were perfectly triple wound, and the 2006 robusto is no exception. The cap on this ’06 cigar was precisely applied by a master craftsman. A thing of beauty. On the other hand, the 2013 robusto is not triple wound at all. While still attractive and functional, the straight cap on the newer cigar is a surprise and leaves me with a little bit of nostalgia for the good old days… remember 2006? George W. Bush? Windows XP? Okay, I guess it wasn’t that long ago…
What I remember most about the DPG Blue is its explosive introduction. Ask anyone who smoked the big-bore Pepins back in the day, and you’ll probably hear the same thing. I expected the 2006 robusto to have mellowed, and my expectation was borne out. What I didn’t expect was that the 2013 blend would be almost as mellow as the 2006. Either the blend has been tamed by its designers, or my palate really rose to the challenge when I smoked the ’13.
Assuming the former, it seems that the power of the Blue Label blend has waned in recent years.
The oldest of the group, the 2006 robusto, turned out to be a disappointment. The opening was mildly spicy, but the palate flavors were papery and flat. The mid-section brought some cocoa and pepper finally showed up in the last third. A complex aroma of leather and caramel saved the cigar, though it could never quite overcome the tannic and dry qualities that appeared on the palate. I was expecting more from this elder statesman, but apparently its glory days have passed.
The 2009 torpedo was the most complex of the three: leather, cedar, and roasted nuts with increasing earthiness on the palate as the cigar progressed. In the mid-section there are caramel notes and a rich potent aroma. The cigar ends with a pretty good nicotine thump, even after four years in the box. There is a dash of pepper before the inevitable char at the finish line.
The newest exemplar of the blend, the 2013 robusto, was surprisingly smooth. I expected a major recoil from this Nicaraguan cannon, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never been a fan of overwhelming spice, but I would expect that smokers who pick up a DPG Blue are looking for that very thing, and I have to wonder if by now they’ve moved on to other blends. The smoke is medium in body and flavorful, but not wildly complex either. Some cocoa and cedar with a touch of sweetness round out the palate flavors, which get a little more concentrated as the cigar burns to its conclusion.
Even strong cigars lose their potency over time, but I was still surprised at how much the 2006 DPG Blue had faded. This used to be one of the heaviest sluggers around, but time has mellowed the old blend to a shadow of its former self. In the intervening years the cigar appears to have been reblended and refined, and while I wouldn’t call the 2013 blend a shadow exactly, it’s certainly not as substantial as the 2006 was when it was fresh. In between these two was the 2009 torpedo — the best of the bunch, and the closest to what I remember the original blend tasting like.
All of which is merely to point out what is fairly obvious to serious cigar connoisseurs — cigars in storage change with age, and blends change over time as manufacturers tinker with them or use other tobaccos out of necessity. The DPG Blue simply tastes different today than it did in 2006, and using a rating from years ago to describe a cigar made today is highly questionable at best.