Cuba Aliados Miami Edition

A man doesn’t get to be 85 years old in the cigar industry without seeing a lot of changes, and Rolando Reyes, Sr. has seen a thing or two. He currently presides over a thriving facility in Danli, Honduras, where most of the Reyes Family cigars are made, but a couple years ago he made a trip to Miami to interview cigar rollers for a special project.

It certainly wasn’t Reyes’  first experience in Miami — for four or five years in the ’80s he made Miami his home, until the move to Danli in 1989. And while Don Rolando remains in Honduras to supervise the factory there, his grandson and president of the company, Carlos Diez, has been revitalizing the company in Miami.

In 2009 the company inaugurated the Reyes Family line of cigars, a sign that the company might be headed in a new direction. At the time I thought that the old blends — Puros Indios, Cienfuegos, and Cuba Aliados — would be subsumed under the new name, but it didn’t turn out that way.  Which is good, because Cuba Aliados must hold a special place in Don Rolando’s heart — it’s been  his brand ever since the the ’70’s when he emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.

With only six rollers, the Miami shop is very small, especially by comparison with the hundreds of Hondurans employed in the Danli factory. The rollers in Miami are Cubans who come to the table with experience in the Cuban cigar industry, as opposed to the folks in Honduras who had to learn the trade from scratch. Give one of these Miami cigars a gentle squeeze and you’ll see the difference is palpable. Each roller rolls one and only one specific size, which improves consistency. And the blend is quite a bit bolder than is typical for Reyes.

The Aliados Miami uses a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, binder from the Dominican Republic, and filler leaf from Nicaragua. Only three sizes are made, but they’re all big smokes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro Viejo – 6 x 53
  • Valentino – 7 x 49

Construction Notes

What I noticed first about the Cuba Aliados Miami (after removing the cedar sleeve) is how densely rolled it is. This is a really solid cigar, and this is made clear by the slow and regular burn as well as the pre-light characteristics. The Habano wrapper is dark and grainy with plenty of oil. The head of the cigar is shaped well, and even though it isn’t perfectly triple-wrapped it cuts cleanly and looks fine.

The grain from the wrapper is evident in the dark gray ash, which holds for a good inch and a half before it starts to bend a little precariously.  These are slow burning, luxurious cigars, so make time for them. I spent about an hour with the robusto, and close to 90 minutes smoking the toro and churchill sizes.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Aliados Miami opens with a combination of black pepper and a dry woody flavor that I think of as quintessentially Nicaraguan. After half an inch or so the wrapper kicks in a sweet cedary aroma that blends really well with the spicier notes on the palate.

The mid-section turns to another flavor on the Nicaraguan palette — cocoa. The spice mellows but remains assertive. The cedar and cocoa meld nicely and produce a sweet sensation on the tongue that at times almost reminded me of mint.

The last third turns a little darker. The cocoa turns to a semi-sweet chocolate taste with tannic overtones, and the nicotine kicks in. The smoke texture is full in body, leading me to think it would be matched by this in power, but it’s a little more moderate in that regard. It starts out in medium-strength territory and sneaks up to full strength only at the finale. The burn gets a bit hot at the band, but the flavor and aroma are still fresh for the nubbin’.

Conclusion

Cuba Aliados Miami is a crisp, well-balanced cigar that exhibits what I think of as Nicaraguan flair, but it does so without losing its composure. (Or making me lose mine.) It’s assertive, not aggressive, and that is a quality that I wish more upper echelon cigar makers would emulate.

The construction qualities of this cigar were top notch. I had to double check my math after scoring one of these cigars — the Toro Viejo — at a 47 out of 50 construction points. That’s the high water mark for the year so far, and judging by last year’s entries it might be the one to beat for 2010.

Considering the quality of the blend and the limited nature of the release, it’s surprising to see how reasonably the Miami edition is priced —  around 6 or 7 USD per stick.

The modest price tag is about the only thing it has in common with Reyes’ other cigars. For fans of Puros Indios or the classic Cuba Aliados, the Miami Limited will be a bold new experience, but a very enjoyable one.

Final Score: 90

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Cuba Aliados Anniversary

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Before there was Puros Indios there was Cuba Aliados, the original brand and pride of master cigar maker Rolando Reyes, Sr. Today his cigars are made in Danli, Honduras, but the name “Cuba Aliados” conjures up images of an earlier time when these cigars were rolled in Havana.

Reyes’ experience in the cigar business stretches back seventy years and includes training and employment at the Partagas and H. Upmann factories in Havana. Eventually he opened his own factory — the original Cuba Aliados, named for an old bus line — that was producing six million cigars a year for the Cuban domestic market when it was seized by the Castro regime after the revolution.

The Reyes family moved to the United States in 1970, and after struggling to gain a foothold in Union City, New Jersey, Cuba Aliados was born again. Demand for Reyes’ cigars soon exceeded the supply, so they migrated first to Miami where they increased production, and then to Honduras several years later. They still maintain a presence in both Union City and Miami.

For many years Cuba Aliados had an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper similar to the one on the Puros Indios cigar, and was distributed exclusively by JR Cigars. In 2004, distribution rights were reacquired by Reyes and the occasion was marked by a change to distinguish the two brands — a new Nicaraguan corojo wrapper was introduced to the Cuba Aliados line.

So I was thrilled to receive a sampler pack from Puros Indios that included two of their new Cuba Aliados Anniversary cigars — a beautiful Diadema No. 3 with a natural Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper and a Short in a rich and dark corojo maduro. The press release notes that both of “these unique sizes have come to represent Cuban Master Blender Rolando Reyes Sr. and his 60 years of experience in the tobacco industry.”

These Anniversary cigars celebrate both the century-plus tradition of the Cuba Aliados brand name as well as the seven decades of Don Rolando Reyes’ work in the industry. They will be available in both Nicaraguan corojo and Ecuadoran Sumatra wrappers, with filler from Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and Ecuadoran Sumatra binders. All tobaccos are aged for at least six years and total production will be limited to between 200,000 and 300,000 cigars.

The Diadema No. 3 is an example of the cigars maker’s art at its highest. These are made completely by hand and without the use of molds, which takes considerable skill and experience. My sample suffered a little damage in shipping, but I was able to repair it with a little vegetable glue and it smoked fine. The prelight scent is slightly cedary and it cut cleanly to open a free prelight draw. The tapered foot lights as easily as if it were a candle. (In a Cigar Aficionado interview Rolando Sr. joked that some people are intially confused by this unique shape and don’t know which end put in their mouths!)

The first third focuses on cocoa and caramel aromas with a mild taste and almost no finish. It burns slowly and evenly and the ash holds nicely. The flavor builds gradually, bringing at the end a zing of pepper and a sharp aftertaste that sneaks up and wakes me from my reverie as the ash nears my fingertips. This is a very refined cigar with a sweet cubanesque aroma that at times reminded me of maple syrup. It’s an easy going but sophisticated medium-bodied smoke.

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The Short has an altogether different personality, starting with an oily corojo maduro wrapper that makes it look like a thoroughly grilled sausage link. There’s a ton of flavor packed in this 4 x 48 firecracker, but any prelight indication of this is hidden beneath a cedar sheath which imparts a distinctly woody scent to the wrapper. Once lit this little guy pours on a full-bodied sweet and spicy flavor with a rich leathery aroma and some residual cedar. Into the second half, the sweetness from the wrapper predominates. The woody component reminds me of PI’s Cienfuegos, but the Aliados is stouter, with more bittersweet chocolate and coffee notes. This is the heaviest cigar I’ve smoked from Puros Indios, and the rich flavor is best enjoyed slowly, sipped like a smoky cognac. My only criticism is that the thick and oily wrapper tends to burn erratically and needs an occasional touchup.

These are outstanding cigars, the best of the best from Cuba Aliados, and a fitting tribute to the master who started it all so many years ago. Suggested retail prices are $12.00 for the Diadema and $8.00 for the Short.

Thanks to the fine folks at Puros Indios for allowing me to preview these cigars. Stay tuned for the official announcement of interesting developments at PI for 2008: a new company name, a new logo, a new website and — most importantly — new blends, including their first cigar with a Cameroon wrapper!

–cigarfan