Rocky Patel Decade Cameroon

RP Decade Cameroon

Friends and family who know I am a cigar smoker were very excited for me when the news of restored relations with Cuba was reported earlier this year. I wanted to be excited too, but instead I had to explain that this diplomatic thaw does not mean the gates to the promised land have been flung wide open. As of today, Cuban imports are still on the U.S. Treasury Department’s hit list.

But what surprised them even more was when I said that legal access to Habanos was not what I’m looking forward to most. What I’m really excited about is the possibility that top Nicaraguan cigar blenders may soon have access to Cuban wrapper leaf. I’ve smoked some fine Habanos, and I’ve smoked some really disappointing Habanos. What gets my heart pumping now is the thought of what a cigar blender like Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia or Arsenio Ramos might do with Nicaraguan fillers and a Cuban capa. A wrapper leaf can change everything.

As an example, Rocky Patel’s Decade utilizes a dark Sumatran leaf grown in Ecuador. The core of the original Decade is Nicaraguan, giving it a nice acidic bite, but the wrapper lends it a maduro-like temperament: it’s rich and sweet with chocolate and cocoa. What happens when that wrapper is switched out for something a little different?

That’s just what Rocky did with the Decade Cameroon. The core of the cigar is the same as the original Decade, and it is made in Plasencia’s El Paraiso factory in Honduras, just like the original. The core blend is still undisclosed (though it is reportedly Nicaraguan.) The difference is the wrapper, and the difference is substantial. The Decade Cameroon was released at least year’s IPCPR convention and is available in three sizes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52

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Construction Notes

For the review I smoked the RP Decade Cameroon in the Robusto and the Toro sizes. Both were well made sticks, but the finishing touches on the Robusto were a little cleaner. The cap on the Robusto was simple but seamless, while the Toro’s was ragged and a little sloppy. The head of the Robusto was almost flat, while the Toro’s was slightly lopsided.

The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro with a few small sunspots. The draw in both sizes was firm but productive and the burn was even and consistent.

Overall Construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The Toro and the Robusto did not vary too much in terms of flavor, though the Toro scored a little higher on the intensity chart. The base flavor is earthy with a little tartness and a touch of black pepper on the tongue. On the nose there is cedar with an overtone of clove.

The sweetness of the original Decade lurks beneath the surface and makes a showing in the second and third stages of the cigar: coffee and brown sugar come to the fore, and as the tartness fades in the last third there is chocolate and maybe even caramel. The big difference here is the minty clove-like spice that comes from the Cameroon wrapper. The Cameroon Decade is every bit as rich and smooth as the original, but it’s a more complex blend of flavors.

Conclusion

Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown Robusto has been my mainstay Rocky smoke for a long time, but in the past couple of years I’ve become disenchanted with it. I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s the blend, but it just doesn’t taste as bright and smooth as it used to. The Decade Cameroon might be my favorite blend in the RP lineup now. It reminds me a little of the Partagas Benji Menendez Master Series — rich and smooth with that savory Cameroon tang. What a difference a wrapper can make.

At $9 to 10 USD per stick, the Decade Cameroon is not a cheap date, but this is no fast food cigar. It has considerable competition in that price range: the aforementioned Partagas and Fuente’s Don Carlos line perform similar tricks with Cameroon wrapper.  But on a good day I think the Decade Cameroon can keep pace with those big dogs.

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Final Score: 90

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Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story

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Brought to you by our friends at Cigars Direct.

While Ernest Hemingway certainly had a connection to the cigar Shangri-La that is Cuba, he wasn’t known to be a huge fan of the cigar. Apart from his literary oeuvre that would earn him a Nobel Prize, he was known more for his prodigious appetite for alcohol than for smoking cigars. But for cigar fanatics the name “Hemingway” brings to mind something other than the writer — the Fuente made cigar named in his honor. The figurado shaped cigar with a tapered head and perfecto foot is known to most as the “Hemingway” style.

But this shape did not originate with the Arturo Fuente Hemingway series — according to Carlos Fuente, Jr., this shape is a classic Cuban perfecto that was popular from the 1920’s through the 50’s. Its popularity declined thereafter, and most of the Cuban masters who knew how to make this difficult figurado either retired or passed away. But then around 1980, Carlos Fuente Sr. recovered the “Hemingway” molds his father had stored in their Ybor City factory and recreated these cuban perfectos.

At first the Fuentes made these new perfectos exclusively for their own enjoyment. But in 1983 they introduced the first Hemingway to the market:  the 6 x 47 Signature. Five years later came the Classic and the Masterpiece,  which in a 1997 interview Carlos Jr. said was one of the rarest and most challenging cigars they make:

the Hemingway Masterpiece is without question one of the rarest sizes of all Arturo Fuente cigars. Since the day it was first introduced, it has been blended and rolled by the same two brothers, who work together to make this unusual and challenging shape (perfecto, 9 1/4 by 52). The Cameroon wrapper for the Masterpiece is so difficult to obtain that we literally have to go through bales until we are able to select a few precious leaves that have both the size and the quality to be used on a Hemingway cigar. When the wrapper is not available, the brothers make Hemingway Classics. In a good year, we consider ourselves lucky if we’re able to produce as many as 10,000 Masterpieces.

The Short Story was created some time after that because it was “getting difficult to smoke in certain areas.” Yes, it was, and things have not improved since then. And even though this unusual looking figurado is one of the most difficult shapes for a roller to make, it was thereafter widely copied and imitated by other cigar manufacturers.

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The wrappers used for natural  Hemingway cigars are African Cameroon; the maduros are much more rare but are really exquisite. The Dominican filler and binder are together simply known as “the Hemingway blend.”

Three of the figurados in the Hemingway series — the Work of Art, Best Seller, and Short Story — have pyramidal cylinders, while the original Signature, Classic and Masterpiece are modified parejos. The Short Story is the smallest of the lot, measuring only four inches long with a ring gauge of 49 at its widest point, narrowing to 46. It’s an exotic looking cigar.

Construction Notes

The Cameroon wrapper on this cigar looks a little drab at first, but I’ve noticed that it changes quite a bit once lit — this wrapper must be really sensitive to heat. A minute or two after lighting oils come to the surface and the wrapper shines.

The color is consistent and there is the occasional glue smear.  The roll is firm and regular, and the draw is just right. Occasionally a cigar with this type of foot will offer resistance until the burn reaches the main body of the stick, but I haven’t encountered this problem with the Short Story.

The perfecto “nipple” makes this an extremely easy cigar to light. One match is usually all it takes. The burn can be a little uneven until the cinder has reached the main shank of the cigar, but from that point it evens out.  The ash is firm — with any luck you won’t need to ash this cigar but once, if at all.

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Tasting Notes

The Short Story is surprisingly complex for such a small cigar. It opens up with a strong sweet cedar flavor and a touch of mint, the hallmark of Cameroon wrapper. The smoke is medium to full in texture with a spicy tang.

After a few more puffs the flavor gets earthier and there is a touch of black pepper on the tongue. This is a medium bodied cigar in terms of both smoke density and power, but it has a lot of character. The aroma is a bit piney — sweet and spicy.

The finish grows a little bit toward the end, the aroma weakens somewhat, and the flavors muddy slightly. And then it’s done. That’s the only problem with this cigar — it’s over way too soon. But that’s the power of the short story, literally. I’ve always preferred “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” to The Sun Also Rises — the economy required seems to concentrate and magnify the power of Hemingway’s style. You could say the same thing of Fuente’s Short Story.

Conclusion

So this is a really wonderful little cigar. Even if you’ve smoked the larger sizes, I’d urge everyone to try the Short Story as well. I can’t think of a better 20 -30 minute smoke in its class.

Be sure to check Cigars Direct for availability and competitive pricing on Hemingways and other rare Fuente cigars.

Final Score: 91

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~cigarfan

Fuente Don Carlos Vertical Review (Pt. 1)

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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.

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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.

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