Alec Bradley Post Embargo Robusto

AB Post EmbargoPrior to the last U.S. election, it looked like restrictions on Cuban cigar imports might be relaxing a little. Some restrictions have in fact been loosened a bit, but it’s too early to celebrate the “Post Embargo” era just yet, at least with regard to cigars.

Nevertheless, the embargo has always loomed large in the minds of American cigar smokers. We don’t like being told what to do, what to buy, what to eat, or what to smoke. Like it or not, we tend to err on the side of liberty, even when it facilitates imprudence. Make that warning label a little bigger, California. Nobody gives a shit.

So most of us have, at one time or another, thumbed our noses at the government and sampled that “forbidden fruit.” Some of it is amazing, and irreproducible with non-Cuban tobacco. But some of it is also pedestrian, badly rolled, and easily counterfeited. The end of the embargo does not mean that Habanos will automatically assume the throne in the U.S. market. Strong cigar companies like Alec Bradley will survive, and I expect they will thrive against the competition. This will be good for everyone.

In any case, Alec Bradley is not waiting for the government’s next move. The Post Embargo era began for AB with this blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan leaves wrapped in a Honduran Criollo 98 wrapper from the Trojes region. (I’m not sure if any other cigar makers are using wrapper from Trojes. It seems to be synonymous with Alec Bradley.)

Three sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Gordo – 6 x 60

AB Post Embargo 2

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Post Embargo robusto is dry but smooth, with a workmanlike cap to match. The cigar is box pressed, sits nicely in the hand, and draws very well. The burn is a little uneven at times, but not to the point of distraction. The ash is solid, though slightly flaky.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The Post Embargo starts up with a tannic bite and a handful of cocoa powder on the nose. If I didn’t know what cigar this was, I might have guessed it was an old Pepín blend.  Earth dominates the palate and the aftertaste, along with some white pepper that dies down after an inch or so. Meanwhile, the tannins go marching on. Pucker up.

Midway into the cigar, cedar and light kitchen spices make an appearance, combining with the tannins to create a somewhat citric profile. Cocoa continues to play in the nasal passages. There is an unexpected sweetness just inside the last third, a pocket of sugar that comes from nowhere. The earth becomes fairly heavy toward the finish line, overpowering the sweetness and complexity. The flavors dirty a bit at the end as the cigar bows out and calls it a night.

Conclusion

Alec Bradley’s Post Embargo robusto is a sophisticated medium-bodied cigar that reminds me a lot of the classic Nicaraguan blends that Pepín Garcia made about ten years ago. Mouth watering tannins combined with loads of cocoa, sweetness, and earth.  At first sight, 8 bucks might seem overpriced — admittedly,  it’s not the best looking stick on the shelf — but I think it’s well worth it.

The Post Embargo celebration may be a bit premature when it comes to open competition with Habanos, but when the embargo is actually lifted — and I think it’s only a matter of time — the AB Post Embargo shows that the blending creativity and quality control of American cigar manufacturers will stand up well against the respected Cuban tradition.

AB Post Embargo 3

Final Score: 90

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CAO OSA SOL

CAO Cigars was acquired by STG (Scandinavian Tobacco) in 2007 and is now one of General Cigar’s many holdings. There was much speculation about what would happen to the brand after its acquisition, particularly since the company had such a large presence in the marketplace. Not many cigar makers have a “lifestyle director,” but CAO did, and it showed. As just another species swimming in the sea of General Cigar it could be expected that the brand would now assume a lower profile, and to some extent it has. (Check out the Stogie Guys’ interview with Ed McKenna of CAO for more details on this transition.)

But the brand continues to evolve, and the latest creation to crawl from the surf is this one, the OSA Sol.

OSA stands for Olancho San Agustin. The departament of Olancho is the largest in Honduras (larger than the country of El Salvador, actually) and lies to the northeast of Danli, the capital of cigar production in Honduras. There is an interesting saying about Olancho: “Entre si quiere, salga si puede” (Enter if you wish, leave if you can.)

The San Agustin valley is not on any map I can find, but if the coordinates that are printed on the OSA band are correct, it’s just across the El Paraiso border. Hopefully that makes it easier to leave. I looked at the coordinates on Google Maps and it appears to be an extremely remote location. No surprises there.

General uses a wrapper from the same region on their Punch Gran Puro, one of my favorite General smokes, and also on the Partagas Spanish Rosado. The OSA blend is quite different from those, but it is designed to “highlight the nuances” of this particular wrapper. The binder is Connecticut broadleaf, and the filler is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos. Three sizes are in production:

  • Lot 54 – 54 x 6
  • Lot 58 – 58 x 6 1/2
  • Lot 50 – 50 x 5

Construction Notes

The star of the OSA Sol is the wrapper, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. It’s a little rough, fairly veiny, and somewhat dry in appearance. The cap is smooth but sort of pasted over a round Cullman style head, emphasizing its functionality. The cap cuts neatly though, and it doesn’t unravel. Triple seams are nice to look at, but function is what counts.

The roll of the cigar is solid, but contrary to some other reviews I found these to draw a little too freely. They seem to burn pretty quickly, which may be a result of the loose draw. On the other hand, the burn is perfectly even, and the ash is smooth and solid.

Overall construction: good to very good.

Tasting Notes

In a word, the OSA Sol is woodsy. Cedar and humus. It starts up with a cedary spice and a touch of tannin on the tongue. It’s smooth on the palate though, and the aroma is sweet and woody.  A couple inches into the cigar and the wrapper really starts to shine. Nuanced notes of apple and leather combine with the cedar in balanced complexity. The smoke remains smooth up to the end, but a slight pucker of tannin  persists; a dash of pepper in the last third adds a dimension to the woody flavors on the palate.  The sweet woodsy aroma continues to the end, but the flavor starts to char at the band.

Conclusion

Based on its wrapper I thought the OSA Sol would be similar to the Punch Gran Puro, but it’s mellower and maybe a bit more complex as well. It’s a great medium-bodied smoke for this time of year — I always like a woodsy cigar when the temperatures start to come down, and this one is smooth and burns beautifully. I wish it were a little more affordable, but 6 USD is probably not too much to ask. It’s worth a shot if you’re in the mood for a smooth and flavorful autumn smoke.

Final Score: 89

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples of this new blend.

St. Luis Rey Cazadore — Aging Report

This is one of the last of a box of Saint Luis Rey Cazadores that I bought in late 2005 to conduct an aging experiment.  Soon after this the Cazadores vitola went out of production.  The manufacturer toned down the blend for the other sizes in the line, but this is the original Honduran blend. After reading so much about how well Cuban cigars age, I wanted to see how a full-bodied Non-Cuban cigar would hold up over a few years. After acquiring some aged Camacho Havanas that had become extremely mild over the years I wanted to compare different styles of non-Cuban cigars after a few years of aging.

When I first cracked the box I found the Cazadores to be aggressive, but tasty — woody and spicy with a peppery bite. Two years in long-term parking mellowed the smoke significantly, allowing more distinct flavors of leather and cinnamon to emerge, while still retaining some of the original bite.

It has now been almost five years since I purchased this box, most likely more than five years since they were produced, so it’s time to give them a final assessment.

Construction Notes

The St. Luis Rey Cazadore has not suffered at all from its long cedar nap. The wrapper is just as pretty as it was on opening the box in 2005, and the roll is solid with just a bit of give. One improvement made over time is the burn — these senior smokes are burning righteously, though the ash is still a mite flakey.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The first few puffs on the Cazadore are reminiscent of the young cigar — a touch of spice on the tongue — but this sensation quickly dissipates and is replaced by a smooth, almost creamy smoke. The smoke texture is still full in body and has a decent kick, but this feisty Honduran of 2005 has finally matured into a respectable citizen of the world.

When new this cigar’s aroma was almost undetectable amidst the hammering that it gave the palate, but five years later it reveals an enjoyable and subtle spice over an earthy foundation.

The mid-section of the cigar is still hearty, but its spirit has waned over the years. More than anything I enjoy the cedar and light spice on the nose — cinnamon or nutmeg I think — and the smooth earthy flavor. The final section gets a little more serious as the black pepper kicks in again, but the flavor loses complexity and eventually flatlines.

Conclusion

I think these cigars are probably a little past their peak at this point. The flavor isn’t completely washed away yet (as happened with the Camacho Havana after six years) but the complexity of the cigar is waning. The toasty, earthy flavor of this 5 year-old blend is still very enjoyable though, and the soft subtle spices that have emerged in the aroma are a nice surprise.

Aging this now -extinct SLR blend has produced a pronounced change in flavor as well as performance, and each stage of its maturation has revealed a different set of characteristics. That’s what makes aging cigars fun. Leave a comment if you have any suggestions for other blends — especially Non-Cuban cigars — that you think age really well.

Aging Report: Saint Luis Rey Cazadore

slrcaz

This mysterious cigar, first reviewed in April 2006, is from a 2005 box that has an uncertain history.  When I first purchased these from JR Cigars I could find no listing for St. Luis Rey Cazadores anywhere except JR, and nothing has changed since then. (They are unlisted by the manufacturer, Altadis USA, though JR still lists them as “Out of Stock.”) The current SLR is a medium-bodied multinational blend with a Nicaraguan wrapper, while this one is still a full-blooded full-bodied Honduran.

The “Cazadores” is a traditional Cuban production vitola — the Cuban Romeo y Julieta is probably the best known example — but this double corona sized cigar doesn’t even come close to meeting the traditional 6 7/16 x 44 Cuban format.

So why this cigar is called a “Cazadore” is as confounding as the fact that it no longer exists, because it’s a nice full-bodied cigar that so far is aging beautifully.

Aesthetically this old SLR is gorgeous — a smooth leathery colorado wrapper that has few veins and almost no imperfections. The roll is perfectly consistent and the head is flawlessly shaped and wrapped. The one surprise is the lack of a triple cap — with a roll this perfect I’ve come to expect one, even if here it really isn’t necessary.

I was prepared for this cigar to have lost some weight over three years in storage, but it seems to be as brawny as ever. It starts up with the same bullish glower that I remember so well — pepper with a leathery aroma and a good kick from the git-go. The draw is good but the thick juicy wrapper requires a correction almost immediately, within the first inch and half. (Since this was the last correction needed, I’m calling operator error… toast that foot evenly.)

The middle third is meaty and rich — just what I’m looking for from a Honduran cigar. The aroma takes on a woodier aspect at this point with a dash of cinnamon. I didn’t note this in the earlier review, and digging through the cluttered humidor of Smokes Past I’m not finding any memories of such subtleties.

The last third returns to darker peppery flavors and leather, getting stronger by the inch. I was hoping that this cigar would have mellowed a little in this regard, but after three years it’s still in fighting form.

My experience with aging cigars has so far shown that after a year or two the most noticeable change is in potency — I’ve seen this with the Camacho Havana (6 years) and the Angel 100 (2 years) and with several other brands over shorter periods of time. Strength diminishes and subtler qualities emerge. For the most part the Saint Luis Rey Cazadore is an exception to this, at least so far. I still have half a dozen of these put away, so we’ll have to see if the weight of the years can eventually tame down these unruly Hondurans.

Camacho 1962 Robusto

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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.