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.


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

Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo

Kinky Friedman is best known as a musician, author, and perennial candidate for political office, but a cigar is his constant companion in whichever guise he appears. He is an American humorist in the tradition of Mark Twain, and like Twain his quips are many and well known. My favorite is still what he said to Bill Clinton after handing him a Cuban cigar: “Remember, Mr. President, we’re not supporting their economy. We’re burning their fields, one cigar at a time.”

Kinky prefers Cuban Montecristos, but laments the price. He considers Honduran leaf second only to Cuban, so it is fitting that the original line of Kinky Friedman cigars uses a Honduran Habano wrapper. The binder is from Costa Rica, and the filler is a Honduran-Nicaraguan blend. They are manufactured by Habana Cuba Cigars, the makers of Oliveros, in the Dominican Republic. Five sizes are in production:

  • Kinkycristo – 6 1/4 x 54 torpedo
  • Texas Jewboy – 6 x 56 torpedo
  • Governor – 5 3/4 x 60 toro
  • The Willie – 6 x 48 parejo with a shaggy foot
  • Utopian – 6 x 52 toro

Proceeds from sales of the Utopian size go to Friedman’s Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Medina, TX. So you can add animal lover and philanthropist to Kinky’s already extensive resume. He also makes salsa, which I haven’t tried but probably should since the proceeds from that product line also go to the Utopia Rescue Ranch.

Construction Notes

The Kinkycristo is a nice looking torpedo with a Texas-sized primary band featuring a silhouette of the Kinkster himself. There is an additional, more discreet secondary band bearing the frontmark name, “Kinkycristo.” Together these bands cover half the cigar, which wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the surplus glue that has been smeared all over the ventral side of the stick. I wonder what would happen if I ran that fingerprint through AFIS?

That rather unsettling aesthetic anomaly aside, the Kinkycristo is rolled well, draws easily, and burns evenly.

Overall construction: very good.

Tasting Notes

I’ve smoked a few “celebrity” cigars in my time, and I can’t say that I’ve been terribly impressed with any of them. Using one’s celebrity to market a product is a business decision, not a demonstration of talent, and I am accordingly skeptical of any product peddled that way. So my expectations of this cigar were lower than they might have been. All the same, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Kinkycristo is a smooth medium-bodied cigar with a substantial amount of complexity. In the first third I found a soft woody aroma coupled with an earthy aftertaste and a few flavor notes that kept me guessing.

The middle of the cigar is a little bit spicier, but is still balanced and smooth. Cocoa, or perhaps sweet coffee with lots of cream, makes an appearance at times, along with that elusive note. It reminds me of vanilla and balsa wood, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

The Kinkycristo is surprisingly complex, but it doesn’t change much from start to finish. It stays even tempered, mild and tasty to the end. I was expecting a little more power in the last act, maybe a shot of Tabasco or chile powder, but it just tips its hat politely and meanders into the sunset.


The Kinkycristo is a smooth medium-bodied smoke that could be easily enjoyed as a breakfast cigar, or anytime at all if the medium range is where you live. The MSRP is a bit high ($165 for a box of 20), but the online behemoths are selling them right now for about 70 dollars under that.  If you play your cards right on the auction sites you can do even better than that.

It’s nice to know that Kinky has a fall-back plan if the book-writing, song-singing, and campaigning-for-office gigs dry up. Cigar slinging might be what he was born for.

Final Score: 89

La Aurora 107 Lancero

La Aurora hit an out-of-the-park home run with its last anniversary cigar, Cien Años, to celebrate an amazing 100 years in the business. Any business (or human being, for that matter) still going strong after a hundred years is worth celebrating with a Centennial bash. Seven years later, Willard Scott is proud to congratulate La Aurora one more time.

107 is an odd number though. Not only is it odd, it’s prime. (And of course I’m late:  this blend was released last year.)

La Aurora has been known over the years for milder cigars like its eponymous La Aurora,  a nice nutty Dominican-style cigar with a tasty Cameroon wrapper.  But in recent years they have turned with the times to heavier, more complex cigars like the 1495 and Preferidos lines. While not the spice bombs that many full-bodied cigar enthusiasts crave, the more recent releases certainly bring more flavor to the table.

That trend is continued with the 107, which employs a sun grown Ecuadorian wrapper, a Dominican binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the DR.  Originally released in just three sizes, a fourth — the lancero — was added after a successful drive by fans of the blend, mostly via Twitter.

  • Robusto – 4 1/2 x 50
  • Toro – 5 1/2 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Lancero – 6 7/8 x 40

Construction Notes

The Aurora 107 has a dark pecan-colored wrapper with some lighter veins that are prominent by contrast. It’s a striking leaf, similar in appearance to the 5 Vegas Limitada 2005,  also made by La Aurora. The roll is mostly solid, with a few soft spots that will escape notice unless you’re palpating the cigar for a review.

True to its lancero roots, the head is finished with a discreet pig tail and the draw is a bit tight for the first inch or two. It burns evenly and produces a solid light gray ash.

Overall good construction.

Tasting Notes

The 107 is not a shy cigar, but it’s not exactly boisterous either. The flavor on the palate is mild and woody to begin with, but this is overshadowed by the brown sugar and caramel on the nose. The aroma is sweet and gradually picks up woodier scents as the ash grows. There is a touch of pepper on the tongue and the aftertaste is noticeably salty.

The mid-section turns spicier — a little more pepper, and the woody flavors char a bit. It gets richer and picks up some leather at the 50-yard line.

The 107 lancero finishes a bit charred and burnt on the palate, but the aroma continues to impress with its sweetness and complexity. Like many thin-gauged cigars, this one should be smoked patiently for maximum enjoyment.


La Aurora’s 107 lancero is a medium-bodied cigar that verges on full body and offers plenty of sophistication in a finely crafted package. It reminds me a little bit of their Barrel-Aged cigar, which is also medium in body with a lot of complexity on the nose. I just finished off a box of Barrel-Aged No. 4, and it seems to me that the 107 is quite a bit more sophisticated and not as sweet.

While I enjoyed this cigar quite a bit, I think I will have to acknowledge my impatience with lanceros and try the 107 in a slightly larger incarnation the next time around.  The lanceros run around 6 USD per stick — not bad for an “Anniversary” blend, even in an odd year.

Final Score: 89

Macanudo Cru Royale Robusto

As much as I appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship that go into small “boutique” blended cigars, I can only imagine what blenders in small-time chinchales would do with the tobacco that General Cigar has at its disposal.

The huge libraries of leaf that large cigar manufacturers have available for blending not only gives blenders the opportunity to work with a wide-ranging palette of flavors, it also allows them to blend cigars that are consistent from year to year. While a veteran cigar smoker at his wife’s brother’s bachelor party is probably going to re-gift that present of a Macanudo, at least he knows that this year’s Mac is not going to be any different from last year’s Mac.

And that can be a very good thing, if last’s years Macanudo is what you’re game for.

But General has started to take the fun out of ribbing the Macanudo brand. The 1997 Vintage Maduro had crusty old ligero junkies taking a second look at the band, and the Macanudo Cru Royale seems to be doing the same.

Benji Menendez and Francisco Rodriguez have chosen an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper for the Macanudo Cru, along with a binder from General’s Vega Especial in the Dominican Republic. (This is the same binder used on the Partagas Black.) The filler blend is a combination of viso leaves from the Dominican and Nicaragua, bolstered by some Brazilian mata fina.

Four sizes are in production:

Lonsdale – 6.5 x 42
Robusto – 5 x 50
Toro – 6 x 54
Gigante – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The Macanudo Cru Royale could easily be mistaken for a maduro cigar. Not only is the wrapper leaf dark enough, it’s also rough enough to pass for Connecticut broadleaf. The head of the cigar is rounded, in typical Macanudo fashion, but the leaf is so thick that it looks more like the tip of a blackened sausage than the mild-mannered Macanudo we know and (sometimes) love. This leaf has clearly been chosen for reasons beyond the aesthetic.

But who needs looks with a personality like this? The roll is solid, the draw spot-on, and it burns without a second thought. Even the ash is attractive. What’s not to love?

Tasting Notes

The Cru Royale looks like a maduro, and it smokes like one too. The soft aroma of sweet chocolate wafts up from the foot of the cigar almost before it is lit. The flavors on the palate are somewhat dry, and surprisingly spicy — not Nicaraguan puro spicy, but certainly spicier than what you’d expect from a Macanudo.

After an inch or two the sweet savor of the chocolate turns noticeably sharper and more complex than the standard maduro. There is a note of hardwood and a mild acidic bite.

The coffee and cocoa bean flavors slowly turn to coffee at the cigar’s conclusion, and it finishes with some pepper on the tongue. Not enough to be called rough, but it’s not exactly creamy either.


The Macanudo Cru Royale is surprisingly aggressive for a Macanudo, but it stays well within the medium-body range and won’t challenge most delicate palates. Rookies graduating to medium-bodied cigars will enjoy the complexity of this smoke, and it won’t knock ’em out.

I want to compare this cigar to the Macanudo Maduro Vintage 1997, but I’m not sure that is fair. The Cru Royale is considerably less expensive — in the 5 to 6 USD range — and is more of a standard line cigar. But they both came out at around the same time, so I can’t help myself. Not surprisingly, the Cru Royale is not as rich or complex as the Vintage ’97. But it’s still a very interesting cigar, especially for a Mac.

Final Score: 86

Pinar del Rio Habano Sun Grown


Pinar del Rio cigars are made in the Dominican Republic at  La Fabrica Don Leoncio, a small but growing factory in Tamboril. The gentlemen responsible for Pinar del Rio cigars have roots in the Dominican tobacco industry that go back generations.

The factory itself is named for the father of Juan Rodriguez. Along with his two brothers, Juan has played an active role in the Dominican cigar industry, including a stint with Davidoff. In addition to Pinar del Rio, Don Leoncio produces cigars for several other companies, including Devil’s Weed, Flor de Cesar, and the Dominican 4000 for Famous Smoke Shop.

Abe Flores comes from a family that has grown just about everything you can grow on the island, including tobacco for Leon Jimenez. (See Walt’s interview with Abe on for the whole story. It’s a great interview, and Abe’s knowledge and passion for cigars really comes through.)


A couple years ago the two got together to develop a new cigar blend that eventually became the Pinar del Rio line. The original blends were the Habano Sun Grown and the Oscuro, but a Connecticut-wrapped Clasico is now available as well. (One other limited edition cigar is available only in the four-pack “Premium Collection” sampler.)

The Habano Sun Grown utilizes a habano seed leaf grown in the Dominican Republic for both filler and binder. The wrapper is, of course, sun grown. The filler is a blend of Nicaraguan leaf and Dominican corojo. As Abe explains in the StogieReview video, both he and Juan are sticklers for leaf quality, and big believers in proper aging. Most of the tobaccos in Pinar del Rio cigars are aged for four years or more.

Construction Notes

The Habano Sun Grown robusto is a nice looking cigar.PDRpatch The stick has a flat head similar to many Cuban cigars, and the wrapper is a smooth and consistent colorado claro (or maybe a shade darker.) The roll is supple, with a little give to it. Looking at the filler at the foot of the cigar I notice no stems, not even a thick vein.  Unfortunately there were a couple of perforations in the wrapper near the band on one of these. Instead of smoking this like James Galway playing a Mozart concerto, I patched it up with a wrapper scrap from another cigar.

After clipping the cap I encountered a perfect draw. I had a little trouble lighting one of these robustos (the one with the perforations) and had to relight it a couple times to keep the wrapper smoldering in tune with the filler. Once properly ignited both sticks burned evenly, though there may be some combustion issues here. The ash is fairly solid, aside from the flaking that occurred relighting the stubborn one.

Overall good construction.

Tasting Notes

My first impression was that this could be a great candidate for a blind test if it were matched against a Cuban cigar. The flavors are not a perfect match, but the aroma of this cigar is eerily similar to what I get from some Cubans — that musky, earthy scent that at one time I thought was irreproducible. (Maybe it still is, but this one comes very close.) The initial flavors on the palate are a little stronger when compared to a Bolivar Royal Corona or Petite Corona; the Pinar del Rio is a little sharper and less creamy, but still very tasty indeed.

Red pepper in the nasal passages is how I’ll remember this one. What is really interesting about this is that it didn’t have the burning sensation at the back of the throat that I often get with peppery cigars. It’s spicy without the mild irritation that comes from many of the heavier Pepin Garcia blends.


I didn’t notice much transition in flavor, but the core characteristic of the PDR HSG is leather. There is also a sweet caramel companion that comes and goes throughout the smoke. All told, with the pepper on the upper palate, the fleeting sweet caramel flavors, and the musky leathery aroma, there is enough complexity in each puff that transition flavors are unnecessary, especially in a robusto size.


Aside from the burn issues that I had with one sample, which I think was a fluke, I thoroughly enjoyed this cigar. The nicotine hit me a little hard at the end, but the flavors were balanced and the aroma was outstanding.  This is one of the few legitimate examples of where the label “Cubanesque” really does apply to a non-Cuban cigar.

The Pinar del Rio Habano SG robusto is in the 5 to 6 USD range, a reasonable price given the quality of this cigar.


Final Score: 88

Aurora Barrel Aged Belicoso


First things first. This is not a flavored cigar, despite the fact that “barrel aged” brings to mind rum, which conjures up those treacly sweet gas station cigars. (Or maybe that’s just my mind, under the influence of the season and an eggnog or two.)

José Blanco and the folks at La Aurora decided to seal the tobacco for this cigar in old oak casks (that once did in fact contain Dominican rum) not to “infuse” the tobacco, but to age it in a completely sealed environment. The result is a beautiful dark oscuro leaf. La Aurora is not new to barrel aging — much of the tobacco for its Preferidos, 1495, and vaunted 100 Años cigar is aged in barrels — but this is the first time wrappers have received this process.

The Barrel Aged utilizes a Dominican corojo wrapper viva la capa dominicana!) as well as a Dominican binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Four sizes are widely available:

  • No. 4 — 43 x 5.75
  • Robusto — 50 x 5
  • Churchill — 50 x 7.5
  • Belicoso — 52 x 6.25

The wrapper on this belicoso is an attractive and uniform shade of dark brown — it could easily be mistaken for maduro, but the leaf seems to be thinner, a little less oily, and much more attractive than maduro — broadleaf maduro, anyway. On the other hand, it isn’t pitch black, like some cigars that are marketed as “oscuro.”  (True maduro requires a thick leaf like broadleaf that can withstand the intense fermentation process, whereas oscuro leaves have undergone a normal fermentation and are usually dark because of the priming and maturation process, not intense fermentation.)

The scent of the pre-light cigar is sweet and woody; despite the fact that these tobaccos have been aged several years, the cigar still has a fresh smell to it. The roll is solid and feels balanced in the hand. My only criticism of this stick so far is the slightly garish band, but that is easily ignored and even more easily removed.


The draw is perfect on this belicoso and it lights up quickly. After a quarter inch or so my first impression is that this is a very smooth smoking, mild to medium bodied cigar.

The initial flavors are sweet and earthy, complemented by a pleasantly woody aroma. There is just a touch of tannin at the back of the tongue, otherwise there is no bite whatsoever and a very mild aftertaste of earth and wood. The aroma carries a little sweetness, but it’s not the cocoa-caramel sweetness that I associate with corojo. In fact, I don’t think I would have guessed this was corojo at all — I might have guessed Ecuador Sumatra, even though it doesn’t look like it.

Into the middle section of the cigar the finish lengthens and the aftertaste becomes woodier and a little dry. The tannic element intensifies a little and the flavor gets a little spicier, just a little pepper in there somewhere. The cigar burns mostly even (one touchup required) and builds a solid ash with a bright white exterior.

The last third brings a little more strength, but not much, and it closes with some earthy bean flavors — coffee or chocolate, I couldn’t decide which. The sweet woody aroma from the wrapper contributes to the mix, making me think chocolate, but there’s some roastiness to it that makes me think coffee.  Either way there’s a lot of complexity to this cigar — from its mild earthy beginning to a roasty medium-bodied conclusion, this is a smooth sailing smoke. Very nice.

MSRP is around 7 to 8 USD per stick (box price) which seems fair. I was prepared to say that was a little too much, but after smoking a couple of these I think the price is warranted. But I have to say that they really do deserve a better looking band.


Other choice reviews of the Aurora Barrel Aged:

Walt reviews the No. 4 for Stogie Review

Doc smokes a pre-released version with José Blanco in Santiago for Stogie Fresh

Montecristo Platinum Royale Delacroix

It’s been a while since I fired up a Monte Platinum, and to tell the truth I was a little hesitant about this one. Back in the day they used an Indonesian wrapper that really put me off my oats, but they switched to a San Andrés maduro which has made a big improvement. Even so, this one has been languishing in my humidor for a couple years.

The “Cigare des Artes” line was introduced by Consolidated Cigar in 1998 (before the company was swallowed up by Altadis USA) as a fuller bodied version of the standard Montecristo. The original line had a Nicaragua wrapper, and the packaging was extravagant: cedar-wrapped cigars in aluminum tubes sold in specially decorated boxes or ceramic jars.

The art chosen for the line was unusual for the American cigar market: the paintings of French artist Michel Delacroix, most of which feature cityscapes of Paris and its environs prior to World War II. He paints in the “naif” manner — a simplistic, folksy style that ignores perspective and looks sort of like the art of Grandma Moses. Given the slick, cosmopolitan images used in cigar advertising today, this isn’t what I expect to see on a cigar box.

The painting commissioned for this line is called “Montecristo Royal,” a crisp looking winter scene of the city that includes a huge sign on a building that reads “Montecristo Fine Cigars” with the Montecristo logo. The sign looks out of place, just as the painting does on a box of cigars. It took a while, but eventually I began to see its charm.

When the original “Cigare des Artes” blend was discontinued in 2002 it was replaced by the Platinum blend, but the commercial vitolas and the artwork still bore the impression of Michel Delacroix. The 7.25 x 52 double corona up for review here is called the “Royale Delacroix.” This size was discontinued in 2004, so this stick has a few years on it. (I received it in a trade about two years ago.)

The wrapper on this slugger is a Habana 2000 grown in the San Andrés Valley of Mexico, normally known as a great producer of maduro wrapper. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a blend of leaves from the Dominican Republic, Peru and Nicaragua. And like most (if not all) Montecristos, it is rolled in the Tabacalera Garcia factory in La Romana, DR.

The wrapper on this cigar is dark, nearly maduro, with a lot of oil. The overall appearance is rough, but attractive nevertheless. The roll is solid and the draw is just right. It lights up easily and starts to build a solid light gray ash.

The first third is marked by a sweet hickory flavor and a mild body. For the first inch there’s just a hint of bite, but this vanishes as some cocoa flavors make an entrance. Into the second third the finish grows and leaves an earthy aftertaste. The flavors get a little more chocolatey but in a muted rather than a robust way. A good contrast is the RP Olde World, which has similar flavors but articulates them much better. The aroma up to this point is of sweet wood and is generally quite pleasant.

After an hour I find that I’m becoming bored with this cigar. It’s burning well and tastes fine, but it’s lacking in substance. Maybe if I were sitting in a Paris cafe, circa 1895, watching the snow fall on a horse drawn carriage while I sipped my coffee, perhaps then I might find the patience to smoke this big boy to the end. As it is now, in the twenty first century, watching the jets streak across the night sky bound for Nellis AFB, I’m ready to call it quits.

The Montecristo Royale Delacroix is fine cigar, no doubt. Fans of mild to medium bodied cigars will find this double corona very enjoyable, but if you’re looking for a little more flavor, you may want to look elsewhere.

E. Zarzuela Toro Fuerte


First introduced in 2005, E. Zarzuela is a relative newcomer to the world of “boutique” cigars. This particular line is sometimes called the “Premium” line to distinguish it from Zarzuela’s milder-bodied “EZ” series released in 2006. Both are made in the Dominican Republic.

The Zarzuela website is sparing in detail about the company, but it does tell us that the chief blenders of this cigar — Felix Rodriguez and Eddy Fontana Zarzuela — have previous manufacturing experience with Arturo Fuente and La Gloria Cubana. So they come with impressive credentials.

The Zarzuela Premium has been rated highly in Smoke magazine and by, and since I’m always game for a small production cigar I thought I should check it out.

One of the arcane aspects of the cigar industry is the seemingly arbitrary way that different shapes and sizes obtain their frontmarks — why double coronas are often called “churchills” and why toros are sometimes called “corona grandes” and so on. Here is a case in point: this “Toro Fuerte” measures 5 x 50, which is the standard robusto format. But there is no “Robusto.” On the other hand, there are two toro sizes in the line, the 6 x 52 “Toro Grande” and the 6 x 54 “Long Drive.” And to augment this toro madness, the petite coronas are called “Toritos.”

The torpedo size is refreshingly called Torpedo (I would have suggested Toro-pedo) and the 7 x 50 double corona is called, of course, Churchill.

The Zarzuela Premium features a Nicaraguan Cafe Habano wrapper, some Dominican piloto cubano for binding, and filler composed of Nicaraguan ligero and Dominican piloto. Habano, piloto, and ligero…sounds like a powerful brew.


The wrapper on the Toro Fuerte is a splotchy colorado maduro, but it has a nice oily sheen and a roughshod leathery appearance. The prelight scent is tannic with maybe a tinge of ammonia, just enough to raise a pucker. The roll is solid and the draw quite firm.

The first few puffs taste dry and woody but in just a few seconds the wrapper kicks in a sweet and complex aroma typical of Nicaraguan habano. After smoking for five or ten minutes a solid and uniformly light gray ash forms that adds to the aesthetic appeal of this cigar. The burn is perfectly even up to this point.

Just after the one-third point the draw opens up like a door and this robusto becomes truly enjoyable. The burn is perfectly even and the ash holds solid. It’s not as strong as I had guessed it would be — it’s more a medium body smoke at this point, with a short finish and very little aftertaste. The aroma is the highlight at this point — a sweet, almost fruity perfume that blends well with the woody and leathery base flavors of the tobacco.

At the two-thirds point the body begins a gradual ascent to medium-full, some tannins enter the fray, and the flavor takes on an earthier aspect. The last third gets meatier yet, the finish grows and the aftertaste becomes more mineraly. Meanwhile the wrapper continues its sweet leathery contribution.

This cigar goes through a lot of changes in a short amount of time, but remains balanced all the way. Construction values are also very high. The tannins come heavier in the last third of the cigar, which may be by design, as some smokers love this tart flavor, or it could be youth. If the latter, this cigar will only improve over time.

A box of 24 will run around 100 USD, which in most places puts it in the $5 to $8 per stick range. Very reasonable, I think, for a cigar of this quality. Don’t take the “Fuerte” in its name too seriously, since this turns out to be a solid medium-bodied cigar. The flavors are good, and the aroma is outstanding. If that’s your style, I say go for it.

The E. Zarzuela Toro Fuerte is not a typical Dominican cigar — it’s closer to a Nicaraguan, but less powerful than what you’d expect from Pepin or Padron. And that’s what I love about boutique cigars: they’re usually not what you expect. This is a nice one.


Ashton Cabinet Belicoso


Long ago and far away, in a distant decade called the Eighties, there was an upstart cigar brand called Ashton. Robert Levin, who had been running Holt’s Cigar Company, decided to get into the cigar manufacturing business and borrowed the Ashton name from the respected line of English pipes. The very first Ashtons were produced in the Dominican Republic by Henke Kelner of Davidoff fame, but within a few years Levin began to work with his old friends the Fuentes.

Levin and Carlos Fuente Jr. began developing the Ashton Cabinet blend in the late eighties. The story goes that Levin asked the Fuentes if they could make a Hemingway cigar with a Connecticut Shade wrapper. Carlito Fuente said they could, and after working the blend for a couple years the final result was the Ashton Cabinet cigar. The original release comprised three shaped sizes; today there are ten, including four perfectos.

Levin remarked in an interview for Cigar Aficionado that at the time of release, the Ashton Cabinet was the highest priced cigar on the market. He doesn’t say what that price was, but the original Ashton Churchill at the time sold for $2.50. My, how times have changed.

The Ashton Cabinet was developed right around the time that Tabacalera A. Fuente took over Ashton production from Tabadom. The blend includes “no less than six different tobaccos” and features a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper. The binder and filler are Dominican, and the belicoso in the line is a short torpedo at 5 1/4 inches long by a 52 ring gauge.

This little belicoso is a handsome cigar — with its finely formed head and firm roll it balances nicely in the hand. The wrapper is a smooth colorado claro typical of quality shade leaf, but I noticed in one sample that the color varied within the leaf. The section toward the foot was a slightly tawnier shade than the upper half. A little distracting, but not a serious defect.

This cigar starts up with a dry flavor that some have described as bitter, but I wouldn’t go that far. This astringency dissipates after half an inch or so, within a few pulls at most, and is replaced by a mild nutty flavor. The smoke becomes increasingly creamy, and then the distinguishing element of the Ashton Cabinet comes to light: a deliciously sweet aroma that in a strange way reminds me of bubblegum. Not as cloying as a big wad of Bazooka, but to me there is something very confectionary about it.

Into the second half the flavor gets nuttier and the creamy texture of the smoke approaches a medium body. At times a dash of pepper touches the palate and throat, but the overall impresson is smooth and sweet with some light kitchen spice.

The burn tends to be a bit erratic but is mostly self-correcting, and the draw is just about perfect. Aside from the wavery burn this stick earns good marks for appearance and construction.

The Ashton Cabinet Beli is a tad pricey at around 8 USD, and I can think of cigars that are comparable in quality that are more affordable (La Tradition Cubana comes to mind) but this is indeed a high quality premium cigar. If price isn’t a determining factor, this is certainly a cigar to try if you’re after a light to medium bodied cigar with that creamy spice one often finds with Connecticut Shade.


La Aurora Preferidos Corojo


“Preferidos” are what they were called in 1903, when Eduardo Leon Jimenes first produced these little perfectos for the locals. Today there is a modern preferido, a tribute to the original, produced in two sizes with five different wrappers.

Preferidos are produced by a limited number of rollers who work under the curious gaze of visitors to the Centro Leon — a complex established by the Leon Jimenes Foundation as a museum and center for the promotion of Dominican and Caribbean art and culture. Recently cigar production for La Aurora moved to the town of Guazumal, quite close to where the original factory was established in 1903, but Preferidos production will remain in Santiago at the Centro Leon.

The filler and binder are the same for all the cigars in the Preferidos line: filler from Brazil, Cameroon, and the Dominican, with a Dominican binder. (The Cameroon-wrapped Platinum is an exception– it uses all Dominican filler.) The binder and filler leaves are aged for six months in rum barrels before they are bunched for Preferidos. The Gold version uses a Dominican corojo wrapper from Navarette.

The tubo versions of this cigar are the same size as the No. 2 – 5 x 54. The tube is solid aluminum and executive gift quality… for the guy who has everything, that sort of thing. (Of limited use, but attractive.) I was unable to find these cigars in their unarmored state, so I bid on a couple singles at non-tubo price and won. Now I’m trying to figure out how to turn the empty tubes into Christmas tree ornaments; whether my wife will let me hang them is another matter. They do make rather lurid ornaments.

The size of the tubo Preferido is magnified by the packaging — once the tube is set aside and the head is clipped it’s actually a fairly small cigar. The wrapper is a smooth and leathery colorado maduro. The foot is cut down to about a 36 ring gauge and the head is a perfectly finished point. The prelight scent is pleasant but unremarkable, offering some mild tobacco and a little hay.

The draw provides the perfect amount of resistance and the foot fires up without a second thought. The base flavor here is earthy, most strongly pronounced in the first half inch and then again at the conclusion of the smoke. In between lies a perfect balance of earth with a little dry wood and a dash of black pepper.


This cigar most definitely has a “sweet spot” at the center where the smoke is at its creamiest and most interesting — the caramel and spice in the aroma is delicious, reminding me a little of small Cubans like the Trinidad Reyes. The last stage is intensely earthy but still relatively smooth. Smoking slowly is recommended.

The only negative here, aside from its small stature, is an uneven burn. Oh, and let’s not forget the price — Preferidos Gold tubos run in the 12 to 14 dollar range. (Retail box of 24 for $408. Ouch.) But all told, this is a little gem of a cigar. It’s about medium until the last inch or so when it ramps up to a full body, but at this point you should be sipping slowly anyway. I’m recommending this one to all my rich friends as worthy gifts — to themselves, or to their less fortunate herf-mates… like me!