Nica Rustica by Drew Estate

Nica Rustica was released originally in 2013 in one size only — the “Brujito” — a corona gorda with a pig-tail cap and a flagged foot. Additional sizes followed, including a large belicoso called “Belly” (after the 1998 crime film starring rap icons Nas and DMX), and a 4.5 x 50 short robusto.

Nica Rustica

As befitting its name, the cigar celebrates Nicaragua, and Esteli in particular. The little figure of the “brujito” which adorns boxes and bands of Nica Rustica is a symbol of the city taken from a nearby petroglyph. I was lucky enough to find a descriptive anatomy of the brujito, which I at first took to be a child’s representation of Jonathan Drew. (I was of course relieved to learn that Jonathan does not have a cola de diablo.)

Also befitting its name, Nica Rustica is not a rico suave kind of stick. Rustic is the word. The Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is a rich and oily colorado maduro with veins that stand out like cellular structures in a stained microscope slide. Beneath this is a San Andres binder, and the beating heart of the cigar is, naturally, Nicaraguan filler, from both Esteli and Jalapa. The parejo sizes have pig-tail caps.

I have smoked this blend in the Belly and Short Robusto sizes, and while they are similar in style and substance, I much prefer the little guy when the thermometer is pushing 110. A subtle smoke this is not.

Construction Notes

One aspect of this cigar that is not rustic is the construction. The roll is solid — no rifts and valleys as I expected — and the draw is excellent. It burns slowly and generates billowing clouds of smoke. The ash is solid but a little bit flaky.

Overall construction: Excellent

Nica Rustica 2

Tasting Notes

The flavors here are rich and tasty, but not subtle or complex. The smoke is slightly sweet and the aroma initially reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle: a bit waxy, with an earthy or sulfuric edge. Cocoa eventually comes to the fore, vying with black pepper on the palate. The spiciness gives way after an inch or two and makes room for a pleasantly meaty flavor that takes the cigar the distance.

Conclusion

Nica Rustica is not overwhelming in terms of power, but it is quite rich and at times a bit harsh. While it might benefit from some aging, this seems in line with the character of the blend, so I wouldn’t wait too long. Don’t expect Danny Trejo to age into Andy Garcia, no matter how long you put him away. (And don’t try to put Danny away or…well, just don’t.)

Ranging from the $4-5 range for the short robusto to about $7 for the belicoso, Nica Rustica is an affordable cigar, especially from a manufacturer whose prices are increasing with demand.

Nica Rustica 3

Final Score: 86

 

 

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CAO Pilon Robusto

Released in 2015, CAO’s Pilón cigar is named for an important part of the tobacco fermentation process. After tobacco leaves have been harvested and dried they are moved from the curing barn to undergo a “sweating” process. The tobacco hands are piled up and allowed to partially decompose. The tobacco in the pile (or pilón) heats up and goes through a complicated chemical transformation — the tobacco gives off ammonia and carbon dioxide, alkaloids like nicotine decrease, and the leaves start to develop the flavors and aromas that are typical of black tobacco. (More on the chemistry involved in this process can be found here.)

CAO Pilon

Pilónes in most modern factories are large quadrilateral bales.  For the Pilón, CAO is using an old Cuban technique in which hands of tobacco are carefully arranged in circular piles. The skeptic in me wants to ask: What’s the effective difference between a square pile and a round pile? A pile’s a pile, right?  My guess is that a smaller more manipulable pilon allows for more control over the keys to tobacco oxidation: heat, humidity, and air circulation. The piles must be periodically taken apart and reconstructed in order to control these elements, and perhaps a circular pilon gives the curador more control.

In any case, the developers of Pilón — CAO’s Rick Rodriguez and General Cigar’s Agustin Garcia — have been experimenting with this technique for several years, and if they say it makes a difference I will take their word for it.  The cigar itself is a Nicaraguan blend with an Ecuadorian Habano capa. The Pilón is made in Esteli, Nicaragua in three standard sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Corona –   5 1/2 x 44

Construction Notes

The Pilon robusto is a rustic-looking cigar with a slightly oily wrapper that is maduro in color and appearance. The cigar is firm in the hand and is finished with a round head and functional cap that takes a guillotine cut with no complaint. The draw is easy, and the burn is even and slow.

I tend to think of cigar bands as purely ornamental and of little concern, but the band on the Pilon is exceptional in one respect: it reports the blend composition. I have no use for gold leaf and intricate graphic artistry, but give me some information right on the cigar and you’ll get my vote every time.

Overall construction: Very good.

CAO Pilon 2

Tasting Notes

The Pilon starts out woody and very clean on the palate. It gradually develops some astringency and reveals typically Nicaraguan characteristics, but in the beginning it is fairly mild-mannered. The texture at this point is even a bit creamy.

An inch or so into the cigar and the woody aroma starts to take on a more coffee-like aroma, a nice medium roast rather than that undrinkable burnt stuff.  A cedary overtone is still present, accompanied by a hint of cinnamon. The coffee beans finally give way to a slightly sweet caramel note, until the spice takes over.

I found the last third of the cigar to be a bit harsh; the subtleties of the first third and the complex flavors of the middle section are completely swallowed up a sharp peppery spice, joined by char at the end. I thought I might have been smoking too fast, but on my second try I slowed my pace intentionally and encountered the same phenomenon. It isn’t overly potent, just a little pugnacious on the palate.

CAO Pilon 3

Conclusion

CAO’s Pilón is a surprisingly complex cigar for the price, which is around $4.50 a pop. It turns a bit grumpy in the last third, but this may even out with a little aging, or it may be intentional — I’ve met more than a few devotees of the mean-ass cigar, so maybe the Pilon was blended to end with a nice poke in the eye. I’ll be trying this in the other sizes to see if that makes a difference, and maybe putting a few away for a while. The first two-thirds are really exceptional for the price.

Final Score: 88

Guayacan Torpedo

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Guayacan is a boutique cigar created by Noel Rojas and distributed by Emilio Cigars. Rojas has a familiar story — a Cuban immigrant with a background in agriculture and the cigar industry. He eventually got fed up with the Cuban government and found a way to ply his trade in the U.S. Now, why the name Guayacan?

Evidently Rojas carved sculptures from guayacan wood for tourists in Cuba (see Brian Hewitt’s Stogie Review for the full story.) Guayacan is a shrub native to the tropics and subtropics. It is drought resistant due to its deep taproot, and in severe winters the shrub can freeze to the ground and grow back from its roots in the spring. (I doubt this happens too often in Cuba, but it does in Texas.) The wood of the guayacan shrub is supposedly one of the hardest measured by the Janka hardness test, a measure of suitability for wood flooring.

Guayacan is tough stuff, and to carve it must take some skill. Making it in the cigar trade isn’t so easy either, but it looks like Rojas has the determination to do it.

The Guayacan cigar was originally released in four sizes, at which time each size used a slightly different blend. Rojas standardized the blend in 2012 after noting the popularity of the torpedo blend, and he now uses that blend for all of the various sizes. The binder and filler are 98 Corojo of the famous Aganorsa variety, and the cigar is topped off with a habano wrapper from Ecuador. Guayacan is made in Esteli, Nicaragua and is available in four sizes:

  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 52
  • Torpedo: 6 1/8 x 52
  • Churchill: 7 x 50 (box-pressed)

Construction Notes

Guayacan is a well built cigar, but it is admittedly a little rough-hewn. (Perhaps this is another reason for its name.) The wrapper has a reddish cast to it and it has a few thick veins. The roll is firm albeit a bit bumpy, and the torpedo tip is expertly finished. The wrapper burns with some reluctance, but after the first half inch or so it pulls itself together.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

I smoked two torpedoes for this review and while I enjoyed both, one was spectacular and the other was just pretty good. The base flavors are earthy and the aromatics are mainly wood with a little leather thrown in. The first cigar was much more expressive, for whatever reason. (The cigars were received at the same time and were stored identically.)

The cigar does not develop too much from the beginning to the end of the smoke, but its pleasant complexity keeps things interesting for the duration. There is less sweetness and more spice toward the finale, but it never becomes overwhelming and stays evenly balanced.

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Conclusion

Guayacan is truly a boutique cigar, and one that is still in the early stages of development, so some inconsistency is to be expected. As long as the inconsistency varies from good to great, I see no room for complaint. I really enjoyed the sweet woody aromatics of this medium-bodied torpedo. MSRP is in the $6 USD range. You might score a great cigar, or a merely very good one. At that price you win either way.

Final Score: 89

1502 Ruby Toro

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1502 cigars are named for the year that Christopher Columbus first explored Nicaragua and claimed the territory from Honduras to Costa Rica for Spain. Within a few years of Columbus’s “discovery,” most of present-day Mexico and Central America would be subsumed under the formal title Viceroyalty of New Spain. At its greatest expanse, in the late 18th century, this territory would include most of western North America as well. It’s a little ironic then that it’s hard to find the 1502 cigar anywhere in this area (unless you are lucky enough to be in Esteli, Nicaragua where the 1502 is made.)

But that is the nature of boutique cigars. If you can find one in every corner smoke shop, it ain’t boutique.

The brand is owned by Enrique Sanchez Icaza of Global Premium cigars, and while distribution seems to be restricted to the Eastern U.S., the company entered into a distribution agreement with Emilio Cigars late last year, and that may improve availability.

Precise data on this cigar is also hard to come by. What is known is that there are three blends of 1502 — Emerald, the lightest of the bunch; Ruby, with an Ecuadorian wrapper; and Black Gold, the heaviest blend, with a sun-grown maduro wrapper. Three sizes appear to be made: Robusto, Toro, and Torpedo, though I don’t have measurements on those either.

As Columbus once said, “Nevermind the details. Anchors aweigh!”

1502 Ruby

Construction Notes

The 1502 Ruby Toro is a box pressed parejo with an attractive colorado maduro wrapper. There are some fine veins, but the wrapper is smooth and the roll is supple. There are a few small irregularities in the bunch, a couple of barely noticeable dents, but nothing that would turn up in a casual inspection. The cap is integrated well and shears away nicely.

The Ruby burns very well, especially for a box pressed cigar, and the ash is firm. The draw is easy and the smoke volume generous.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Ruby Toro has all the characteristics of a good Nicaraguan cigar — there is some pepper up front and an acidic, mouth-watering quality that is typical of Nicaraguan tobacco. The aroma is sweet and woody. As the cigar develops, a fruity note rises up that is somewhat like cherry. To me it’s reminiscent of Tatuaje’s La Riqueza blend, which is surprising because La Riqueza uses a completely different kind of wrapper (Connecticut broadleaf).

In the middle section of the cigar there are notes of coffee and cocoa and the spicier aspects of the cigar tone down a bit, only to return in the last third. The smoke is medium in body, and about medium in strength as well. The woody notes become earthier as the cigar winds down, but the cherry note in the aroma lingers. I frequently find that by the end of a cigar the palate flavors overwhelm the aroma, but the 1502 Ruby is really well balanced in that respect.

Conclusion

The 1502 Ruby shows restraint and finesse, which is usually not Nicaragua’s strong suit. A lot of Nicaraguan cigars emphasize the explosive factor of that nation’s tobacco, and it often results in an unbalanced flavor spectrum and a shell-shocked palate. The Ruby showcases the classic Nicaraguan cigar flavors — wood, pepper, and citric acidity — in a less boisterous, but still flavorful way. And I especially like the cherry note in the aroma.

It looks like the going price for these is in the $6 USD range, which is quite reasonable given the quality of the cigar. The only problem for me, as a denizen of the desert southwest, will be sourcing them locally. With any luck we’ll see wider distribution soon.

1502 Ruby

Final Score: 90

La Musa Mοῦσα

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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον

“Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways.”

The invocation that serves as Homer’s introduction to the Odyssey is a fitting way to introduce Emilio Cigars’ rebranding of Grimalkin, now called La Musa. I studied Ancient Greek as an undergraduate and enjoy reading it still, so I applaud the name choice. I’m not sure if Gary Griffith was thinking of Homer when he chose this name for this blend, but it’s hard for an old classics major not to think of him in association with the word Mοῦσα. The other interesting word in the line is polutropon, an adjective which has no exact equivalent in English. A translator has no choice but to compromise. It’s like describing the aroma of a complex cigar: the result is always  a frail approximation, and the description is never an adequate substitute for the experience of smoking the cigar itself. Polutropon literally means “many ways.”  It  encapsulates the spirit of Odysseus — his craftiness, intelligence, and sophistication. Homer calls on the Muse to help him describe this ineffable man. Perhaps I should do the same before I try to describe this cigar.

Rumor has it that La Musa Mousa is a Nicaraguan puro, and more reliable information indicates that it is made in Esteli. Evidently the plan for La Musa is to release three lines, one for each of the three Plutarchian Muses, plus the original Mousa. (There are several different accounts of the Muses, so there are more of them available for expansion if necessary. With all those lovely ladies it could end up being the most popular booth at the trade show.)

The blend is available in four sizes, with a limited lancero release not listed:

  • Corona – 5 1/2 x 46
  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52

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Construction Notes

The cover leaf on La Musa Mousa appears maduro in shade, with a rough texture almost like broadleaf. The cigar is rolled perfectly, terminating in a sharp torpedo tip. The draw has just the right amount of resistance, and it burns beautifully.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

La Musa Mousa is an essentially Nicaraguan smoke, but it doesn’t start out that way. The first few puffs are much creamier than what I expect from a Nicaraguan cigar (and of course, I’m not completely sure that this cigar is entirely Nicaraguan) and the pepper gradually builds from there. Notes of coffee and cocoa appear in the aromatics, and there is an intermittent sugary sweetness on the tongue.

The complexity of the smoke is demonstrated in the middle section as woody flavors appear alongside the tobacco sweetness on the palate. The peppery intensity gets cranked up a notch as well.

The last part of this torpedo features bittersweet chocolate and tannic wood until it begins to char. It becomes quite powerful by the end (though others have characterized the cigar as “medium-bodied”) and the spice doesn’t let up. It had me tearing up and sneezing at points. In the best way, of course. There’s nothing like a good tobacco sneeze.

Conclusion

There are rumors that this cigar is made at the My Father factory, but it’s almost the inverse of a Pepin blend — it starts out smooth and saves the pepper blast for the finale. But if you gave me this cigar blind, I’d probably guess Pepin anyway: partly for its impeccable construction, and partly for the combination and complexity of flavors — wood and cocoa and pepper in a balanced and well-planned blend. It’s very much a full-flavored and spicy cigar, but it’s also quite creamy.

La Musa Mousa in the torpedo size sells for around $8.75 USD. Given the complexity of flavors and the superb construction of the cigar, that’s not a bad asking price. Seek it out if you’re a fan of big Nicaraguan blends, and let me know what the Muse tells you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinal Score: 91

Illusione Maduro cg:4

It doesn’t seem possible that the Illusione cg:4 could be improved upon, but that’s no excuse for not trying. Last year, Dion Giolito went back into the lab and emerged with a new species. By replacing the inimitable corojo wrapper on the “original document” with a maduro leaf from Mexico’s San Andres valley he has essentially re-engineered the cigar.  But can the younger sibling can escape the shadow of its glorious brother? Maybe… if it can do something that Big Brother cannot.

Like all the other Illusione (with the exception of the Singulare) they are made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras.

The Maduro line does not cover the entire spectrum of sizes, but most of the classic vitolas are covered:

~hl~ lancero 7 1/2 x 40
~88~ robusto 5 x 52
~cg:4~ corona gorda 5 5/8 x 46
~888~ churchill 7 1/2 x 48
~mj12~ toro gordo 6 x 54

Construction Notes

The maduro wrapper on the cg:4 is not much darker than the natural, but the fermentation and aging process results in the leaf appearing much more mottled. The oily texture of the cigar is still quite appealing, but maybe this impression is the result of experience more than aesthetics.

The roll is firm, the cap is picture perfect, and the draw is right in the zone. It burns beautifully (even for a maduro) and leaves a long dirty gray ash. Pretty typical for Illusione.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

The maduro cg:4 starts in much the same way that the natural does: it’s bright and zingy, establishing the flavors that the “original document” made familiar many years ago. The difference with the maduro is the hallmark of San Andres maduro leaf: the distinct flavor and scent of chocolate and dark-roasted coffee.

The core of the cigar is earthy with some cedar notes sneaking in between the coffee and cocoa bean flavors. The sharp acidic and woody flavors with which the cigar opens gradually fade without disappearing altogether. The maduro incarnation of this blend seems to be a little smoother than the natural while remaining in the medium-to-full bodied range.

The last third of the cigar is spicier and comes with a sneaky punch.  It feels like being the last one at the bar. (I know this feeling from reading only the best dimestore detective novels.) It’s last call and the doors are swinging shut. Even the regulars have stumbled out into the misty early morning. Your glass is dry, your wallet is empty, and the bartender is giving you the evil eye. The sweetness of the maduro has made a hasty escape and now it’s time for you to do the same.

Conclusion

The Maduro version of the cg:4 is an immensely satisfying cigar, but the question that always arises is the one that nobody really wants to answer: is it better than the natural? It’s like choosing who is the favorite of your children. You don’t want to do it, but in the deep recesses of your crooked little heart you do it anyway.

I guess for me it’s still the natural. The Maduro is priced the same as the natural, around 8 USD per stick. Not an everyday cigar for me, but not out of reach either. In any case, the price to value ratio is about right. It’s an excellent smoke.

Final Score: 90

Aging Report: Oliva Serie V Lancero 2008

A few years ago I went to my one and only cigar event, a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke evening at the Venetian Resort on the Las Vegas strip. I waited in the lines, met a few cigar stars, and went home with my swag. It was a good time, but not anything I’d go out of my way to do again. Crowds and noise are just not my thing.

But I do have one outstanding memory from that nicotine-powered, liquor-soaked evening: in the stygian gloom created by hundreds of cigar smokers a stout gentleman walked by me as I was waiting in line (a mob, really) at the La Aurora booth. He was smoking something so distinct and powerful that the aroma found a way through the thick cloud in the room to my nose, which was tickled and might have even twitched. I followed him around the corner and when he stopped to chat with someone I discreetly peered at the cigar in his left hand: an Oliva Serie V.

And I thought, Wow. That’s one I’m going to have to try.

In the four years or five years since then, the Oliva Serie V has become a staple in my humidor. I’m wary of its potency, which is a little outside my comfort zone, but I’m willing to smoke them slowly and carefully in exchange for the intensity of their flavor.

One way to mellow a powerful cigar is to stash it away. And though I have come to the conclusion that most cigars do not benefit greatly from aging, there are a few exceptions, and those exceptional sticks are all fairly strong blends. So when I opened the humidor and spotted an Oliva V Lancero with yellow cello and a 2008 sticker on it, I had to give it a go.

Construction Notes

We found some problems with cracking wrappers in our original review of the Serie V, but I have never experienced that with the lancero. In fact, I have experienced no construction issues with the lancero at any time, not even the occasional tight draw to which cigars with narrow ring gauges are prone. And this one was no different.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

Four years in hibernation have mellowed this cigar to an appreciable degree, but the blend is robust enough by design that it is  “mellow” only by comparison with the original article. It begins with a cool and creamy demeanor, gradually heating up as the familiar flavors start rolling in: sweet smoky hardwood and leather in balanced proportions.

The mid-section adds a dose of cocoa which slowly turns darker and more roasted in flavor, eventually coming to resemble espresso or dark roasted coffee.

The last stage is peppery, but it’s not quite as explosive as it once was. There is also an unusual aftertaste to this cigar that I always enjoy — it’s earthy, but slightly herbal, almost like basil.

Conclusion

This slight-looking parejo still makes me a little weak in the knees when the cinder meets the band. The years have slowed the Oliva Serie V lancero down a bit, but not all that much. It’s still a brilliant cigar, and a great candidate for aging.

By an odd coincidence, Oliva just announced a new extension of the Oliva Serie V — the Oliva Serie V Melanio, which will feature a Sumatra seed wrapper grown by the Olivas in Ecuador. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the price — $8 to 14, their most expensive offering to date. Time to raid the piggy bank again.

Final Score: 90