Trinidad Paradox Toro

Trinidad Paradox Toro

Cigar giant Altadis USA managed to sneak in this extension to the well respected Trinidad line last year: Trinidad Paradox, a medium to full bodied blend with a Mexican Criollo 98 wrapper. I tend to shy away from Mexican tobacco, but I will usually make an exception for leaf grown in the San Andres area, and this is one of those instances.

The binder is a Dominican piloto leaf, with filler from Nicaragua, and — gulp — more of the dreaded Mexican. The cigar is box pressed and presented in odd, but attractively lacquered rhomboid boxes of 16. I guess that fits in with the Paradox allusion.

According to a very short blurb in Cigar Insider, the “paradox” is the “combination of modern tastes and traditional cigar-making.” But is that really a paradox? I thought that was just the way cigars are made today. Then again, I am perpetually mystified by cigar companies’ marketing strategies, so maybe “paradox” is more revealing than it appears at first glance.

Trinidad Paradox is made in the colossal Tabacalera de Garcia factory in the Dominican Republic, and it is available in four sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 57
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52

Construction Notes

The Criollo wrapper on the Paradox is a dry colorado claro, but the leaf is consistent in color and not overly rustic. The stick is finished with the typical Altadis “Cullman” style rounded head and a functional cap. This cigar is box pressed, but even so it is a little soft to the touch. This hardly matters, since the draw is consistently good and it burns evenly.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Paradox cigar

Tasting Notes

Trinidad Paradox is billed as a medium-to-full bodied cigar, but I think it is probably more in the middle of the range. It starts up with a mild cocoa and brown sugar flavor. In the first part of the cigar there is an underlying earthy flavor that grows slightly musty, but in a pleasant way.

The cigar picks up some black pepper as the ash grows longer, but compared to some of the cigars coming out of Esteli these days it can hardly be called “spicy.” The pepper blends nicely with the other flavors, which continue to provide depth and complexity. The aroma remains sweet and slightly pungent, despite the continuing notes of cocoa and coffee.

The toro seems to wind up a bit prematurely, a half-inch above the band, but my enthusiasm for the cigar might have inspired me to puff a little too frequently. It starts to char at this point, and that is my signal to put the butt to bed.

Conclusion

Serious cigar enthusiasts often pass over cigars from huge cigar conglomerates like Altadis USA. I guess those of us in search of the perfect cigar experience expect mediocrity from the mainstream, and that expectation is frequently warranted. Nor is this phenomenon unique to cigar smokers — haute cuisine, fine wine, and nearly every other specialized subset of aficionado has its share of snobs. I’ve been guilty of snobbery, I admit. But I try to be fair.

I’m glad I gave this cigar a chance. Even though it uses Mexican leaf, and even though it is made in the world’s largest cigar factory, Trinidad Paradox is a very respectable smoke. The flavors are nicely balanced and complex for a medium-bodied cigar. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range. Bigger is not often better, but this Altadis USA blend rates a look.

Paradox

Final Score: 89

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Gurkha Cellar Reserve Prisoner

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

Construction Notes

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.

Tasting Notes

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.

Conclusion

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

Frank Llaneza 1961 Cuban Corona

Frank Llaneza is a lion of the cigar industry who has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “the last grand old man of the cigar business as it was carried over from Cuba.”

He is best known as the former president of Villazon & Co., which was started by his father and his partners in Tampa in 1920. Young Frank was conscripted into the cigar industry, starting out with janitorial duties in his father’s factory, a job that he would have gladly forsaken to spend more time in school instead. But this was the during the Depression, and his choices were limited. As part of his education in the business he soon left for Cuba, where he learned how to select wrapper leaf under the legendary Angel Oliva, Sr., a man who would become first his mentor and later his collaborator.

Llaneza was on the ground in Cuba “when Fidel Castro came down from the mountains into Havana.”  He saw changes on the horizon, but initially he didn’t see the extent of them. The Castro regime gained strength and finally fomented a revolution, leading eventually to the confiscation of the entire Cuban tobacco industry. Fortunately, Llaneza, along with Angel Oliva, had wisely already begun their first experiments with Cuban-seed tobacco in Central America.

Llaneza took over the reins of Villazon in 1953 and continued the company’s tradition of making clear Havana cigars. That changed over the following decade as his continued success with growing excellent cuban-seed tobaccos in Honduras provided Villazon the opportunity to fill the full-bodied cigar niche left open by the embargo.

Two of those of those cigars would become mainstays on the American cigar scene for the next fifty-plus years: Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey.

In 1996 General Cigar purchased Villazon and with it those famous brands. Theo Folz, recently retired from Altadis USA, saw this as a missed opportunity for his company:

“We’ve always been a net buyer of businesses,” says Folz. He regrets missing one, Villazon & Co., and its renowned cigarmaker, Frank Llaneza. The maker of Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey was acquired by General Cigar in 1997. “The one acquisition that I should have made, that slipped through my fingers, was Villazon. Because not only would you get a great business, but you would get one of the greatest cigarmakers in my lifetime.”  Cigar Aficionado, 3/09/2004

Ironically, Llaneza recently retired from General Cigar and is now blending cigars — for Altadis USA.  The Siglo Limited Reserve was his first, and the Frank Llaneza 1961 is his most recent creation.

The 1961 is made in Nicaragua and features a Criollo 98 wrapper from Ecuador. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a Nicaraguan-Dominican blend.  Cigar Insider picked the Cuban Corona size as the pick of the litter, rating it 92 and bestowing upon it “Humidor Selection” status.

Six sizes are available:

  • Corona Grande – 6 1/2 x 44
  • Cuban Corona – 5 5/8 x 46
  • Double Corona – 6 3/4 x 48
  • Double Magnum – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Magnum – 4 3/4 x 54
  • Pyramid – 6 1/4 x 54

Construction Notes

The 1961 Cuban Corona is an unassuming stick with its simple band and dark leathery wrapper. This outer leaf is actually maduro in color; with its leathery appearance and slight sheen of oil, it could pass for a maduro cigar. The head of the cigar is well made and one of my specimens exhibited a quadruple cap. The roll is solid, though one cigar had a very minor dent in one side. The draw is just right and the ash is firm, but it does flake just a little. The burn is very slow. I expected to get 45 minutes to an hour from this stick but it smoldered for almost twice that long.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Cuban Corona is an assertive cigar that announces itself with a leathery bite. There are a lot of flavors here, but they seem to be blended together so well that it’s hard to distinguish between them. In the first third I was a little overwhelmed by the leather and spice, but I was still able to detect a sweet edge to the smoke. The lengthy finish is impressive.

I learned quickly not to retrohale this cigar at all. Unless you enjoy the sting of rich peppery tobacco and the sneezes and sniffles that accompany it, you won’t either. But simply puffing on this cigar releases clouds of rich woody spice. There’s some salt here too, which had my palate begging for a Islay malt companion. I was happy to oblige with a glass of Lagavulin.

The Cuban Corona comes out of the corner swinging and never lets up for a breather. The last round is not much different than the first, but by this point my palate has taken so many blows that it’s a little bit numb. Pepper, leather, and some cinnamon spice are the main contenders, with the ghost of grilled meat hovering over it all.

Conclusion

This cigar carries all the characteristics of the Honduran style, despite the fact that it has no Honduran leaf. It reminds me of a Camacho more than any other cigar, minus Camacho’s signature Corojo overtones. But this should come as no surprise, since Frank Llaneza has been making this style of cigar for most of his life. The 1961 blend is much bolder, I think, than any Punch or Hoyo I have tasted, but it shares the same leathery, meaty quality of those cigars.

I hesitate to use the verboten term “strong,” but there is certainly an edge to this smoke. The nicotine content is not overpowering, but retrohaling left my mucosal passages crying for Mama. I love the flavors of this cigar, but I am really hoping that some aging will sand down the edges a bit. If that happens, this cigar will truly be worthy of being called a “humidor selection.”

The 1961 is a limited release (see the Stogie Guys review for details) and is retailing for around 7 USD per stick.

Final Score: 87

Cruzado Dantes

cruzado1

Cruzado cigars were introduced to the world in an unorthodox fashion last summer when the cigar’s creator, Dion Giolito of Illusione fame, decorated his booth at the IPCPR with pictures of the cult leader Jim Jones. There were those in attendance who immediately condemned this as offensive and in poor taste, which of course it was. But it was more than that, I think. Instead of drawing customers in with the treacle of bikini girls and tv celebrities, he seemed to be challenging us with a twisted kind of advertising archetype, an image of charismatic evil. Instead of hawking his new product (which is what the show is for)  he was offering a crowd of starry-eyed cigar fans an opportunity for self reflection, if not outright criticism. At the very least it was unexpected.

Ultimately it was more of a comment on the cigar industry (and perhaps the show itself) than anything else. If it showed disrespect for anyone it was the ad execs who drive the cigar business, or whoever the guys are who mix the industry’s Kool Aid. And while I can see his point (without taking it quite so seriously) I think letting Jim Jones to do the talking was a somewhat sideways approach. Provocative, yes, but maybe more dramatic than necessary.  Gutsy though, definitely gutsy.

Later in the show a sign appeared plastered over the multiple faces of Jim Jones : SOLD OUT. I found this ironic on about seven different levels, but I’ll spare you the post-modern mumbo jumbo.

Since then the controversy has subsided and the reviews of Cruzado have been almost uniformly excellent — the cigar has scored very well with the mainstream press, the blogs, and the guy in the shop who told me I was really going to like it.  (Okay, maybe the last guy was selling me a little Kool Aid. But it did win the Zennie for 2008, which carries more weight with me than a retail pitch.)

Illusione is a pretty punchy cigar. Cruzado was designed by Giolito and Arsenio Ramos of Raices Cubanas to be a little less potent  than Illusione by substituting viso for ligero in the filler and by easing up on the corojo content in the blend. As Giolito told Blog of the Leaf:

Whereas Illusione is a corojo blend with one component of criollo, Cruzado is a criollo blend with one component of corojo. Illusione exhibits an earthy sweetness in the olfactory sense. The profile of Cruzado is more forward on the palate with leather and spice.

Six vitolas are available, all of which have relatively narrow ring gauges:

  • Avalitos: 4 x 46 (petit robusto)
  • Dantes: 5 x 48 (robusto)
  • Domenicos: 5 5/8 x 46 (corona gorda)
  • Elitas: 6 1/4 x 44 (corona larga)
  • Marios: 7 x 47 (churchill)
  • Marelas: 5 5/6 x 46 (perfecto)

They are produced at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras using Nicaraguan criollo wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler from both Nicaragua and Honduras.

The Dantes is Cruzado’s robusto entry, though the 48 ring makes it seem almost like a short churchill. The wrapper is rustic, a little rough, and the bumpy texture of the binder beneath is easily seen on the surface. The head is triple capped with an attractive pig tail.

cruzado2

The pre-light characteristics are unremarkable, but the draw is spot on perfect. It lights up easily and gets things started with a bang — I was expecting a milder entry compared to the Illusione line, but the peppery overture with which this cigar starts is every bit as bold.

After half an inch or so the Dantes eases up a little and the differences between this and Illusione become evident. Cruzado lacks the same hickory/hazelnut flavor that makes Illusione so distinct. Instead I pick up freshly cut hardwood with an elusive sweetness on the edge. I’m not sure what it is…caramelized sugar maybe? Occasionally I’ll pass a little smoke through my sinuses to aid in my investigation, but I found the Cruzado to be a little too strong to do this comfortably.

The aftertaste is long and earthy, and it stays that way for the duration. The Dantes burns slowly and evenly, wavering only a little here and there, and builds a solid dirty gray ash.

The mid-section brings out some cocoa/chocolate flavors and continued earthiness on the palate. The last third is almost Honduran tasting — thick lashings of leather and pepper, almost like a Camacho Corojo, but lighter and more refined. And finally, as the band approaches, there are some hickory notes on the nose that are reminiscent of Illusione.

My expectation was that Cruzado would be a much lighter cigar than Illusione, but that was not my experience. It may be a tad lighter, but not by much, and it’s certainly not a lighter formulation of the Illusione blend. (For that, I might recommend the Illusione ~mk~, which is a brilliant cigar in its own right.)

The Cruzado Dantes wins big points for complexity and style — there are some distinctly unusual flavors here, and they’re all balanced very well. Keep in mind that this is still a very Nicaraguan cigar and it comes with the bite — and the buzz — typical of the breed. Like Illusione, Cruzados are not easily found, but at around 8 dollars per stick they should be in the sights of medium to full-bodied cigar fans everywhere.

cruzado3

Final Score: 88

~cigarfan


Other Reviews

Matt gives the Elitas an A+ but has some trouble with the Marelas

Barry awards the Marelas a whopping 96 points

A nice guest review of the Marelas at Stogie Review

Doc give the Dantes a thorough physical for the Stogie Fresh 5

Camacho 1962 Robusto

cam62.jpg

After a somewhat unfortunate, but educational trip down memory lane with the Camacho Havana, I thought it would be nice to fire up a few Camachos of more recent vintage. Like the Havana, the 1962 is a medium bodied blend with a criollo wrapper, so I snagged a fiver on C-bid a couple months ago hoping that I would like it as much as the Havana. The fresh Havana blend, I should say.

The big word on Camacho has lately been their 10th Anniversary Limitada (a triple corojo which should be hitting the shelves any day now) and the Triple Maduro, which has gotten mixed reviews. The 1962 was released sometime last year, but has existed in relative obscurity, perhaps because it is a Cigars International exclusive.

Some cigars are rock stars, some are the guys next door. More often than not I’d rather have a beer and a smoke with the guy next door. Lose the ad glamor and give me a break on the price, please. (CAO is ridiculous with this sort of thing — nightclub glitz, Flavorettes, but I’m giving them a break because the samurai parody is friggin hilarious… if you haven’t seen it and you have a few minutes to spare, check it out.)

The only serious marketing the Camacho 1962 is getting is a fancy label and some nice pricing at CI, and that’s just fine by me. A funny ad and hot chicks are nice, in moderation, but the bottom line is that if it smokes well, the cigar will sell itself.

The 1962 shares the double band conceit that is becoming more common of late. Ignoring this, a close examination of the wrapper shows a moderately dry wrapper, smooth with just the beginnings of plume — very fine but sparse crystals light up the wrapper if you hold the cigar at the right angle to the light. The cap is a little sloppy, but it shears off nicely and a quick prelight draw shows just the right amount of resistance.

The first third is dominated by a dry, mildly tart, almost citric flavor. A dash of pepper here and there spices it up a little. The middle section stays on the same path, but adds a touch of sweetness to the dry wood flavors. The aroma is compelling though — an interesting musky smell combined with cedary sweetness. The burn wavers a little, but is self-correcting. The ash is a solid dirty gray and only requires two trips to the ashtray if you’re a long-asher.

The ’62 robusto saves the best for last: a bittersweet chocolate flavor overtakes the dry woodiness for a last minute comeback. The aroma slides from musk into coffee punctuated by clove. The finish stays very dry to the end, and serves up a good dose of black pepper as a coda.

This is an interesting and fairly complex cigar with great construction, but it is very dry tasting. As strange as it sounds, I think lemonade might actually work with this smoke. It reminds me a little of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffees, and like Yirg it might take some getting used to. It’s an intriguing medium-bodied cigar.

Retail prices are around 4 USD, but you can usually snag them for far less on Cbid. The 1962 does not have a typical Camacho flavor, so if that’s what you’re after you might want to sample a few before bidding on a box. But for an everyday, sitting-around-the-garage (and thinking about getting rid of that old PC monitor and cleaning things up but not really) kind-of-cigar… it’s not bad.