Padilla 1948 Edicion Limitada Robusto

So what’s up with Cigars International and Padilla? In the past few months we’ve seen a number of “small batch” and “limited” edition Padillas for sale at prices so low it should be illegal. I reviewed the Miami Maduro limited edition a few weeks ago and found it to be a decent smoke — even a very good one, considering the price. In the meantime I’ve smoked all of the other small batch sticks and thought they were decent as well — not stellar, but better than their two-dollar price tag would suggest.

So when I saw the Padilla 1948 getting the same treatment, I jumped. The ’48 was my goto Padilla back when Pepin was making this stick, so at 40 bucks for a mazo of 20 it seemed like a no-brainer.

But then I read on one of the boards that this cigar uses short filler. This was after I had pulled the trigger, of course, but I was a little peeved because the description of the cigar specifically stated it was long-filler. On the other hand, what do you expect for 2 dollars? I decided that I should postpone judgement until I could perform a little personal investigation.

According to CI, this is a long-filler Nicaraguan puro with a Habano wrapper. Like the Miami Maduro Edicion Limitada, this one is issued in the 5 x 50 robusto size only.

The first one I smoked burned well and tasted fine up to the mid-point where it suddenly got very sharp tasting. But what really concerned me was the ash. After half an inch it plummeted to the floor without the slightest prompting. And then again, after another half-inch or so. Damn, I thought. This probably is short filler. To satisfy my curiosity, and for the benefit of my three readers, I had to conduct a post-mortem. The results weren’t pretty, and I like pretty pictures, so I sacrificed a fresh stick for the purposes of demonstration.

Below you can see the wrapper, carefully incised and removed. It’s a nice looking wrapper — dark and oily, just like the ad copy says.

Next, the binder. Not so nice looking, but neither is your connective tissue.

And finally, the heart of the issue. La Tripa. Findings: Long Filler.

Construction Notes

The biggest problem with this cut-rate ’48 is consistency in construction. Some of them draw perfectly but a few were almost plugged. One had the odd ash issue, mentioned above, which resulted in the ash falling unaccountably every half-inch. But most of them (4 out of 5, lets say) were just fine.

The wrapper on this limitada robusto is rustic, but still rich looking. The roll is solid, and every one has burned slowly and evenly. The caps are uniformly sloppy, which is a surprise to see next to a Padilla band, but aesthetics aside they perform their assigned function. The ash holds firm, though sometimes it cracks and makes idle threats.

Overall construction: Good, but with concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

The Padilla ’48 Edicion Limitada doesn’t have the smoothness or complexity of the ’48 I remember from back in the Pepin days, but it showcases cocoa in a way that is reminiscent of the old blend. There is a little bit of black pepper up front, but the base flavors are earth and wood. Toward the middle of the cigar it picks up a musky note, but the best thing about the cigar is the cocoa and coffee on the nose. It’s about medium in body, lighter than most of Padilla’s standard lines.

I have had trouble getting past the band on these because the flavor drops off and turns ashy if smoked too quickly. If I had the time to nurse it I’d probably get more out this robusto, but for 2 dollars I’m content to smoke it halfway and grab another if I have the time.


The wrapper on this cigar is quite good, lending a cocoa-coffee base to the smoke that seals the deal. Granted, it’s not a Trump-sized deal. But what do you expect for 2 bucks a stick?

You could do worse.

Final Score: 83

Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Robusto

There are so many reviews of this cigar in the blogosphere — all of them positive from what I could see — that I can find no reason not to throw another one on the fire. Unfortunately the volume of material fact about the composition of this cigar exists in inverse proportion to the number of opinions, and the My Father Cigars website is still under construction. (A very classy site, by the way, but every link to actual information about a cigar blend yields only a promise that it is “Coming Soon”. )

But the reliable intel is that this cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua, and is named for (and probably blended by) Jaime Garcia, the son of cigar superhero Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia. The wrapper is a dark Connecticut Broadleaf, and the filler leaf is a combination of tobacco harvested from Garcia’s farms and Oliva’s farms in Nicaragua. Some sites indicate that the binder is Ecuadoran (which would be an unusual choice, but Oliva does grow a huge amount of tobacco in Ecuador) and other sites say the binder is Nicaraguan.

Six sizes are in production, including the newly introduced fireplug format, denominated here as the “super gordo”.

  • Petite Robusto – 4 1/2 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 1/4 x 52
  • Belicoso – 5 1/2 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Toro Gordo – 6 x 60
  • Super Gordo – 5.75 x 66

Construction Notes

It’s not easy to make broadleaf look beautiful, but My Father Cigars does about the best that anyone can to make it presentable. The wrapper is dark, but variegated in color from dark brown to black. No artificial processing here.  There are the expected veins, but they’re fairly discreet by broadleaf standards. The roll is solid, though the cigar seems a bit light in the hand for some reason. The  head of the stick is rounded and the cap is not triple wound. This is very unusual for a cigar from this factory, but it is understandable given the toughness of the leaf.

The draw is excellent, and while the burn wavers a bit it catches up without encouragement. It seems to burn rather quickly. The ash is solid but slightly flaky.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the Jaime Garcia Reserva certainly retains many of the flavors we’re familiar with from his father’s blends. The toro starts up with a dry tannic pinch to the salivary glands, followed by a moderate amount of black pepper on the tongue. The base flavor is earthy, but it is balanced very nicely by the broadleaf’s sweet chocolate aroma.

The mid section continues in the same vein, dry and peppery, though the volume is dropped a few notches on the spice. The sweet earthy flavors momentarily combine to give the impression of pine resin.

The last third focuses on a black coffee flavor as the sweetness dissipates. It finishes a little bit harsh, as if it were serving up a mouthful of grounds rather than a smooth cup o’ joe. The complexity of flavors presented up to this point might have persuaded me to smoke this cigar beyond a prudent point, but I couldn’t help myself.


The Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial robusto is an excellent medium-bodied smoke with an earthy taste on the palate but a sweet broadleaf maduro-style aroma. The blend tastes very much like what one would expect from My Father Cigars, though perhaps a little milder than many of them. It reminded me of a less manly 601 Maduro. 601’s little brother, maybe.

There is a slight raspiness to the smoke that won’t bother My Father aficionados, but I’m hoping that with a little age these will smooth out a bit more. That said, they’re certainly not difficult to smoke now. MSRP appears to be in the 7 USD range. Definitely worth a look for maduro lovers, especially those who enjoy the Garcias’ tannic pinch.

Final Score: 89

Master by Carlos Torano

It was an eventful year for Toraño Cigars. First, the company recovered the distribution rights to their brands, which up to that time had been exercised by CAO. Around the same time they established the new Toraño Family Cigar Company, previously known as the Toraño Cigars. And finally they released three new blends: Brigade, the Single Region Jalapa Serie, and the Master by Carlos Toraño.

Ending the year with a masterful smoke seemed like a good plan, so I snapped up a few Master torpedos at Ye Olde Bee an’ Emm for what seemed like an awfully good price.

The Master is named for the master torcedor who is ever present at events on the Toraño “Roots Run Deep Tour,” Felipe Sosa. The cigar features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder from Esteli and Nicaraguan fillers from Esteli and Jalapa. Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6.25 x 52
  • Churchill 7 x 50
  • Toro 6 x 54

Construction Notes

This is obviously a very well rolled cigar, as the name implies. The wrapper is a little bit veiny, but the color is an even and attractive colorado maduro. The burn is a bit uneven at times, but this never amounts to more than an minor aesthetic issue. The draw is perfect, which makes up for any small flaws in appearance.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Master by Torano torpedo opens up dry with a touch of cocoa. It’s smooth and fairly light in body with an acidic kick — the kind of cigar that makes your mouth water a bit.

The mid-section continues in the same vein: high-toned. The cocoa flavors become a little more complex, developing into a richer coffee flavor, and the finish is earthy with a waxy aftertaste. The flavors remind me of a lightly roasted single origin coffee, the kind that loses its complexity with a dark roast but when lightly roasted is bright and original.

The last third exhibits a fruity aroma, with continued coffee and earth on the palate. The cigar remains smooth and flavorful to the band without muddying over.


The Master reminds me a little of another Torano cigar, the Noventa, with a few differences: it’s a bit heavier in body than the Noventa, but not quite as complex, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. The Master is not as sophisticated as I had hoped, but it’s smooth and flavorful.

In its favor is the price: the torpedos sell for only five dollars a stick. This cigar is not marketed as a value blend, but its affordability gives it a definite advantage over many cigars in the same price range. So far I haven’t factored price into my ratings, but cigars like this make me wonder if I should start.

Final Score: 88

Don Diego Fuerte by Omar Ortez

Don Diego cigars have been around for decades and are known for being mild, aromatic, and inoffensive. The introduction of a Don Diego “Fuerte” is therefore somewhat oxymoronic, bringing to mind George Carlin’s bit about jumbo shrimp. The words “Don Diego” and Fuerte (Spanish for strong) just don’t go together.

Unless, that is, you append the words “By Omar Ortez” to the end. The Don Diego Fuerte is not like some other mild-to-medium bodied cigars that have been fuertified over the years — Indian Tabac “Super Fuerte” and Fonseca “Series F”, for example, which were made a tad bolder but never reached the “fuerte” threshold, in my opinion. The Don Diego Fuerte is not like those cigars. This sucker is FUERTE.

It’s also surprisingly good.

There isn’t much information available on the genesis of the blend, or why Altadis decided to exploit a brand name known for mildness to promote a very bold smoke. Aside from its being made in Nicaragua by Omar Ortez, I wasn’t able to dig up too much.

The wrapper for this cigar is a dark and oily Ecuadorian Cubano that I suspect has received processing as a maduro leaf. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. With the exception of the corona, all of the sizes in the line have a 54 ring gauge. They’re thick sticks.

  • Churchill – 7 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 4 3/4 x 54
  • Corona – 5 1/2 x 44

Construction Notes

The Don Diego Fuerte has a gorgeously oily maduro wrapper. The roll is dense and consistent, resulting in a perfect draw. The cap is standard for Altadis — nothing fancy, but executed well. The burn is incredibly even for a maduro wrapper, and the ash is solid. With a cigar this short it probably wasn’t necessary to ash it at all, but I did.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

It starts up like a full-bodied maduro: chocolate with a touch of black pepper, though not as much pepper as many other Nicaraguan cigars. The smoke is thick and the aroma sweet and cedary with a touch of raisin. After a half-inch or so the potency of this cigar becomes evident. It’s smooth, but it means business.

Leathery flavors emerge in the middle section, with more spice on the nose than on the palate. There is also an earthy, sulfurous smell at play — something like gunpowder. This blends nicely with the leathery aspect.

The last inch brings coffee with an earthy sweet caramel-like aroma. At this point my stomach was churning a bit, so I had to take it slowly.  I usually call it a night if a cigar is making me feel green, but I really didn’t want to put this one down.


Basically shock, both at the strength and the quality of the cigar. I wasn’t expecting much from the Don Diego Fuerte and based on the paucity of reviews, it looks like nobody else is expecting much either. But clearly Omar Ortez has done something entirely new with a tired old brand.

Single stick prices hover around $5 USD for the robusto, or $120 for a 27 count box. Full bodied cigar smokers will have to check out this new formulation. It most definitely is not your father’s Don Diego.

Final Score: 90

Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf

As one of the purveyors of Nicaragua’s finest black tobacco, Casa Fernandez (and its farms) really ought to be better known by now. If you enjoy Illusione or Padilla cigars, both of which employ Aganorsa Leaf as a key ingredient,  you’re just going to have to hunt up some Casa Fernandez products: Particulares, Condega, and JFR (Just for Retailers) are all bangin’ smokes.

Last year I surveyed a few of their offerings, including the flagship Casa Fernandez cigar,  so I got a little chill up my spine when I saw there was a new formulation on the shelves.

Aganorsa is an acronym for Agricola Norteña S.A., the tobacco manufacturing arm of Casa Fernandez, and one of Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia’s first employers after he left Cuba. For quite a long time the company (also known as Tabacalera Tropical) was satisfied with rolling just a few different blends and concentrating its resources on tobacco production. With the advent of Casa Fernandez it looks like they are promoting the cigar side of their business with more gusto. It’s not hard to see why.

The Aganorsa Leaf extension of Casa Fernandez is similar to the original line in flavor, but with its dark corojo wrapper it is bolder and more potent. It might sacrifice a little complexity in exchange for power, but until I do a side-by-side comparison I can’t say for sure.

The binder and filler are also Nicaraguan, of course, and are probably from the Aganorsa farms as well. The Aganorsa Leaf line is box-pressed and sold in boxes of 15.  Three sizes are available:

  • Robusto: 5 x 52
  • Toro: 6 x 54
  • Torpedo: 6 1/2 x 52

Construction Notes

The Aganorsa Leaf torpedo is a solid and swarthy looking cigar. Its sturdy square press and dark, weathered wrapper give it a rustic appeal. The head is wrapped well and clips cleanly. It draws perfectly, though the burn is somewhat irregular, which is fairly typical of both maduro or oscuro wrappers and of box pressed cigars. The ash is a dark dirty gray streaked with black. If you smoke Illusione cigars you know what this looks like.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

When you light up this cigar it is almost immediately apparent that you’re in for a ride. The smoke is thick, full-bodied, and rich. The flavors are crisp and sweet but heavy.

The first inch of the cigar is dominated by a sweet woody flavor, reminiscent of juniper smoke and the smells of late autumn as the temperature drops and people fire up the wood stoves and fireplaces. The smoke is smooth, but assertive.

In the middle section the assertion becomes more of an insistence. The flavors turn a little darker and less sweet: coffee and baker’s chocolate come to mind. The flavor is still crisp, but the smoke starts to bite a little. The finish is lengthy and the aftertaste spicy.

By the last third you’re either in it to win it or staring at the stars. This is a powerful smoke. The aftertaste is profound and cries out for a beverage to match — whisky would be a welcome companion. A strong aftertaste of pepper and char lingers long after the last puff.


For lovers of full bodied Nicaraguan style cigars, the Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf is a must-try. Its powerful finish, peppery aftertaste, and solid kick are exactly what a lot of full-bodied cigar smokers are after. It is a little too aggressive for me to smoke on a regular basis, but occasionally even I like to get out the big guns. As long as it has the flavor and finesse to match the fire-power there is a place for it in my humidor. And this one achieves that balance. I also expect this cigar will age very well.

Boxes of 15 sell for around 100 USD, and singles are hovering around the $7 mark. Pick up a five-pack and let me know what you think.

Final Score: 89

Nestor Miranda Special Selection “Coffee Break”

Every spring as the temperatures rise I set out on my annual hunt for hot weather smokes, and this year as I was paging through Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 one caught my eye in particular: the Nestor Miranda Special Selection “Coffee Break,” which was awarded last place in the standings. At 4 1/2 x 50 it looked like it might just qualify as a Triple Digit Quick Smoke. In the past I’ve gone to Rocky Patel Sungrown Petite Coronas or Pepin Garcia Black Perlas, but I thought I should probably check this one out as a possible contender.

In the spring of 2008, when I first reviewed the Nestor Miranda Special Selection, I had some trouble pinpointing information on the brand. I had to settle for smoking a quite decent cigar without the background information. Poor me. In 2009 all the mystery surrounding the cigar was dispelled by Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia, who was charged with reblending the Special Selection and is now producing them in his Esteli, Nicaragua factory.

The wrapper is Nicaraguan Habano, both the natural Rosado and the maduro-toned Oscuro. It isn’t clear if this is the same leaf with a different level of processing, or if each version employs a different Nicaraguan Habano leaf altogether. Different, I would guess, but I don’t know for sure. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a three country blend from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the DR.

Despite the fact that this cigar has been reblended, the two original sizes are still listed in the roster on the Miami Cigar & Company website. They are made conspicuous by having no frontmarks assigned to them, though some retailers are using the frontmarks from the original blend for these vitolas… it makes me wonder if boxes of the original blend might still be floating around out there somewhere.

The sizes as listed on the Miami Cigar & Co. website:

  • Lancero:  7.5 x 40
  • Unnamed: 5.5 x 54 (the old  “robusto grande”)
  • Unnamed: 6 x 60 (the old “super toro”)
  • Ruky: 5 5/8 x 48 x 52 (figurado)
  • Coffee Break: 4 ½ x 50

There is also a limited 20th Anniversary edition, the 7 x 56 “Danno”, that some of you probably remember from the promotion last year.

Construction Notes

Both the natural Rosado and the Oscuro versions are well made sticks, though they both suffer from a bot burn after the mid-point. The Rosado wrapper exhibits a few small veins, but it glistens with oil and is quite appealing. The Oscuro is drier and more rustic in appearance, which is typical of finely aged maduro leaf.

Both versions are consistently rolled and bear the tight triple cap we’ve come to expect from Don Pepin’s factories. The Rosado burns perfectly and builds a solid ash; the Oscuro wavers a bit more, the ash is flakier, and the column tends to crack after an inch or so. (These are also traits typical of maduro.)

Both versions of the Special Selection Coffee Break draw easily and consistently, but they also tend to heat up at the mid-point. I may be smoking these a little too quickly, or it may be the dimensions of the cigar – or both – but I haven’t yet been able to remedy this problem by slowing my pace.

Tasting Notes

Like many cigars with the same interior blend but different wrappers, the Rosado version is quite distinct from the Oscuro. The Rosado starts out with a mild, woody flavor that puckers the cheek lining with tannin. The Oscuro, on the other hand, opens up with a rich chocolate flavor. After a few puffs both of these initial flavors step back, mellow a little, and concentrate on a smooth woody flavor.

The aroma of the Rosado is lighter than the Oscuro, but with its notes of cedar and honey it is slightly more nuanced as well. The Oscuro centers on a sweet cocoa to chocolate scent.

The second half of both of these small robustos is more intense, but neither goes beyond medium in body. The Rosado turns to a smooth nutty flavor with a smattering of pepper toward the band, while the Oscuro serves up the espresso with the same smattering of pepper, finishing with some char in the last act.


Both the Rosado and Oscuro versions of the Coffee Break are fine short smokes, but with their tendency to heat up in the second leg they might require more time than the typical coffee break allows. That aside, I found the Oscuro to be more complex and slightly more enjoyable than the Rosado.

5 to 6 USD per stick seems a bit pricey for a short robusto, but it’s not outrageous considering the quality of the cigar. The question for me is whether the Special Selection Coffee Break will be reselected as next year’s Triple Digit Quick Smoke. The answer: probably not.

Final Scores:

Rosado: 85

Oscuro: 87

Brick House Robusto

The latest trend for cigar manufacturers is to resurrect extinct Cuban brand names, no matter how unusual, and slap them on their latest blend. (CAO’s La Traviata, for example.) The Newman family, on the other hand, has been sitting on an old Cuban brand name of their own for half a dozen decades. And instead of being unusual, it’s pretty mundane: Brick House. The original Brick House brand honored patriarch J.C. Newman’s Hungarian heritage by depicting his home in the old country, a home that reportedly doubled as the town’s tavern. Sounds like a rockin’ place.

The first incarnation of Brick House was released in 1937 as a “clear Havana,” a cigar made in the United States from imported Cuban leaf. The new blend released in 2009 is a Nicaraguan cigar with what I assume is a proprietary wrapper leaf called “Havana Subido,” ™ a sun grown Ecuadorian Habano. Like the Newmans’ El Baton, Brick House is made by Tabacos San Rafael in Totogalpa, Nicaragua. (On the map it looks like Totogalpa is right next door to Esteli, which mitigates the surprise.)

Four sizes are currently in production:

  • Churchill – 7.25 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona Larga – 6.25 x 46
  • Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Brick House Robusto is a nice looking stick with a ruddy colorado maduro wrapper. It doesn’t glisten exactly, but it exhibits more shine than is typical on sun-grown wrapper leaf. The cigar is well built with a nicely finished cap. One sample was visibly underfilled at the foot, causing a very loose draw. I was surprised to find that this did not promote a fast burn — the burn wasn’t slow either, but it didn’t burn fast and hot the way I feared. The burn was a little uneven, but it corrected itself, and the ash was long and firm.

Overall good construction.

Tasting Notes

The Brick House Robusto smokes like a classic medium-bodied Nicaraguan — woody with a sweet spicy aroma. The smoke is smooth from the start as it opens with mildly spicy cedar and a dash of salt. After half an inch or so a cocoa flavor presents itself, but without the bite that often accompanies heavier Nicaraguan blends.

Some black pepper shows up on the palate in the middle section, but it’s fairly mild. The smoke is still medium-bodied and the texture is smooth. The finish is slightly dry.

The last third is meatier and has more zing. It edges into the full side of medium at this point, but remains well balanced. The aroma is sweet and cedary, blending well with the darker grilled flavors on the tongue. The cocoa fades a bit at this point and disappears as the spice takes over at the band.


The Brick House is far more approachable than many brawnier Nicaraguans, but it shares the flavor palette that has made Nicaraguan cigar tobacco so popular in the last few years — cocoa, black pepper, and cedary spice in a balanced combination.

The other significant difference between Brick House and the competing array of bigger-boned Nicaraguan cigars is the price. The Newmans have priced this cigar economically at around 5 USD retail, and have instituted price protection to prevent Internet discounters from undercutting local brick-and-mortar shops. This is great news for both smokers and tobacconists, because this is a really decent smoke for a very reasonable price. And these days you can’t ask for much more than that.

Final Score: 88

Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu No. 9

This boy is no longer a boy. He’s a brave. He is little in body, but his heart is big. His name shall be “Little Big Man.”

–Calder Willingham

So let’s get this straight. The Tatuaje Havana VI series is a toned down version of Tatuaje, but the Verocu is the “Havana VI on steroids.” Not a big man, but not a small man either. A little big man.

Whatever it is, the Verocu is a little hard to find these days except in the stubby form of the No. 9. The first Verocu blends were regional releases — the 6 1/4 x 52 parejo dubbed No. 1 and sold west of the Mississippi, and the 5 1/2 x 54 No. 2 for those east of the river. Those releases are sold out, but the No. 9 is still available as an exclusive from Holt’s. I picked these up about six months when they were running a special, and I’m glad I did.

But I wasn’t so glad when I first got them. There aren’t too many cigars made by Don Pepin’s outfit that I haven’t been pleased with, but the Verocu No. 9 left a lot to be desired right off the truck. They were quite harsh, unbalanced, and burned terribly. Not what I expected from a Tat at all.

So I did what all hapless victims of the badly behaved box do: I attributed its faults to youth and put it away for a few months. And here I am, a few months later, with another good Nicaraguan puro to crow about.

The Verocu No. 9 is a short rothschild — at 4 1/2 inches long the cigar is almost eclipsed by its double bands, but its 49 ring gauge provides enough girth to keep it from petite corona status.

Construction Notes

The first impression this cigar makes is that it is well made, but rustic. The wrapper has a dry leathery appearance with a lot of variation in shade — from a dark brown, maduro-like color, to a ruddy colorado. The roll is solid and the head is finished with a traditional triple-cap. It’s not a gorgeous cigar, but it has redeeming qualities to be found elsewhere.

The draw is excellent, but these bad boys still burn a little off kilter. They behave much better than the fresh ones I smoked last summer, but they haven’t been completely reformed.

Overall good construction, but it has a stubborn wrapper leaf.

Tasting Notes

The Verocu No. 9 opens with flavors that I usually associate with maduro wrappers — anise and chocolate. Of course it wouldn’t be a Tat without a little black pepper to liven things up, and the No. 9 does not disappoint in this regard. It’s not overpowering, but it spikes the palate in a friendly way. The underlying flavor seems to be leather, and this continues for the duration of the cigar.

The bold corojo heart of the No. 9 beats a little stronger in the mid section, adding some caramel-tinged sweetness to the aroma. It helps to slow down a little with this one to minimize the sharpness of the aftertaste. The resting smoke seems a little sweeter this way as well.

The last stage continues to serve up a base flavor of leather with delicious caramel tones, along with a more assertive spice on the tongue.


Tatuaje’s Verocu No. 9 is a cigar to be savored. It cannot be rushed or all kinds of things go wrong — the burn goes haywire, the flavors get muddied, and the aftertaste becomes burnt tasting. Taken slowly, the flavors are instead quite distinct and enjoyable and the burn is decent (but not great.) They do have a decent kick, but by Tatuaje standards these are still medium-bodied.

This cigar doesn’t really taste like the standard Havana VI (which I think I like a bit better) or any other Tatuaje exactly. It’s a blend unto its own, with its own merits and downfalls.  I think any lover of Tatuaje or Pepin Garcia’s blends will find the Verocu No. 9 an enjoyable experience, though it might not rate among the best of them all.

The Verocu No. 9 is a Holt’s exclusive. Boxes of 20 retail for around 130 USD, though that price occasionally drops. I snagged a box for $100 last summer, and I’m not disappointed. The intervening months have done them a world of good, and if they continue on their current trajectory, these could turn out to be bigger little men than they already are right now.

Final Score: 85 (but climbing)

Illusione Epernay

Wine and cigars.  I like them both, but not usually together because the robust flavors of black tobacco almost always conflict with the more delicate qualities of wine. It could be that I’m pairing wines of insufficient strength with full-bodied stogies, but the result in my case has been invariably the same: a wine that tastes like ash.

Dion Giolito wants to convince us that this is not always the case. His Illusione Epernay series, which was blended specifically to complement the flavors of champagne, has its origins in the 15th anniversary cigar commissioned by the European Cigar Cult Journal (ECCJ).  That blend has now been expanded to four sizes and has been christened Epernay.

Since the original blend was created for European cigar aficionados, it makes sense that the Epernay series is blended for what Giolito calls the “European palate.” I’m not precisely sure what that means, but assuming  European cigar enthusiasts are smoking mostly Cuban cigars it would make sense that this is going to be a lighter, more aromatic and elegant cigar than the average Nicaraguan.

The Epernay series is like other Illusione cigars, a corojo-criollo blend of tobaccos from Nicaragua, also made in the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras. The wrapper is a sun-grown corojo leaf described as “Cafe Rosado.”

Four sizes are available (and it looks like there are still some ECCJs floating around as well) :

  • ECCJ 15th – 5 5/8 x 46
  • Le Petite – 4 1/2 x 44
  • Le Ferme – 5 1/4 x 48
  • Le Elegance – 5 3/4 x 40
  • Le Grande – 6 x 46

Construction Notes

When I finished tallying my scoring sheet for this cigar I found that the Epernay Le Grande achieved nearly perfect marks for construction. This is pretty rare, but this is a rare smoke. The wrapper on this cigar is not flawless, but the mostly fine veins that track through the dark golden leaf aren’t distracting in the least. The cap is wound with nearly seamless precision into a rounded head. The roll is solid and the draw is perfect. It burns slowly and evenly, leaving a solid but slightly streaky gray ash.

Overall superb construction.

Tasting Notes

Since we had opened a bottle of champagne for the Thanksgiving Day festivities, I took the opportunity to smoke the Epernay along with a glass.  I was prepared to be disappointed, making sure that an alternative beverage was readily at hand.

The Epernay Le Grande opens with a mildly acidic zing familiar to those who smoke Nicaraguan corojo-criollo blends. After half a dozen puffs I hesitatingly tipped the glass to my lips and fully expected the wine to taste tainted. But it did not — the zing of the tobacco actually blends with the carbonization and the tannins in the wine! The flavors of the champagne weren’t affected at all, at least not yet.  In the first third the smoke itself is buttery smooth with some cedar and something like toast. The flavor is mild enough to pair well with the champagne, but the smoke texture is closer to medium-bodied.

Some tartness enters in the middle section, but it is nicely balanced by the woody sweetness on the nose —  the smoke leaves an oaky impression, a little tannic with a touch of honey. (I have to wonder how much of this is attributable to the champagne.) The finish is pleasant but has a salty tang.

The final third tastes more like a traditional Illusione blend — the familiar flavors of cocoa bean with a smattering of black pepper. At this point the smoke seems to interfere with the champagne, but the bottle had already been drained by my thirsty guests anyway. I was more than content to finish this cigar with coffee after bidding the oenophiles good night.


The Epernay Le Grande is an even-tempered, medium body cigar with a lot of class and a good deal of refinement. It also had nearly perfect construction — probably the best of any cigar I’ve smoked this year, scoring 49 out of 50 points. The cigar it reminded me of the most was Tatuaje’s Cabaiguan — perhaps because the Epernay stands in the same relation to Illusione’s original line that Cabaiguan stands to Tatuaje — it’s a mellower, more subtle, but equally complex cigar.

And it does in fact complement champagne; I’ll be interested to see if it can pair up with other types of wine as well. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Illusione’s Epernay line is only available cabs of 50, but individual sticks retail for around 8 to 9 USD per stick. A little pricey, but definitely worth the experience.

Final Score: 93

Verdadero Organic Torpedo


Organic agriculture is always a challenge for the farmer, but you’d almost have to be crazy to try to grow and process tobacco without recourse to fertilizers and pesticides.  The tobacco plant is notoriously susceptible to blight and infestation — cigar makers contend with everything from blue mold to the lasioderma t0bacco beetle before those beautiful brown sticks are layered into the dress box. The wrong amount of rain, an influx of hornworms, any number of untold misfortunes, and your cigars never see the light of day.

Nicaragua_mapNestor Plasencia Jr. produced the first organic cigar, the Plasencia Organica. It’s a decent cigar, though I admire Plasencia’s success more than I appreciate the cigar itself.  But in the last year or so another organic cigar has arrived, the Verdadero Organic, so I thought I’d give it a go. This one is made in the Dona Elba cigar factory in the scenic town of Granada, which is situated by the shore of the giant Lake Nicaragua.

Silvio Reyes grows  tobacco for the Verdadero on family land at the base of the Mombacho volcano near Granada. (Bottom center on the map.)Granada2 Before the land was cleared for planting it had never been used for any kind of agriculture, so it can truly be called “virgin soil.”  This  Nicaraguan grown Cuban-seed filler is the heart of the Verdadero Organic cigar, but it is completed with a binder from Sumatra (Indonesia) and a Connecticut seed wrapper from Ecuador.  I have seen no claims that the binder and wrapper are organic, so maybe it should be called the Verdadero (Very Nearly) Organic?

Construction Notes

The Verdadero torpedo is an attractive stick with a perfectly pointed tip that snips off easily with a guillotine. Prelight, the scent is bright and grassy, like freshly mown hay. The shade wrapper is slightly glossy with minimal veins, and the roll is mostly solid; the only exception was a bunching error that resulted in a lateral furrow running down one cigar. It was similar to a “soft spot” but rather than a spot it ran down the entire side of the cigar. It didn’t affect the burn, but it was a defect nevertheless.

The draw is trouble free, and while the burn is a little fast the smoke never gets hot. The light gray ash flakes a bit and crumbles in the ashtray. Overall very good construction.


Tasting Notes

The Verdadero Organic is a mild cigar that offers a minimal amount of drama but is unique enough to remain interesting. It starts up with a dusty, toasty flavor that has a hint of anise about it. The aroma is earthy with some cedary spice, and it has an unusually herbal aftertaste that coats the tongue in a waxy sort of way. I’m not sure if I dislike this, or if it’s just strange to me. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it seems to supply a subtle note of pumpkin or banana.

The cigar picks up a little more body and grows woodier as the the stick burns down. The aroma is classic Connecticut Shade — creamy and mildly floral with a touch of cedar. The smoke texture is buttery.

The last section continues on in the same vein but gets a little bit sweeter, adding a cotton-candy like element, and it finishes up with a light touch of caramel. The aftertaste remains mild but earthy with a relatively short finish.


The Verdadero Organic is a very well constructed cigar with a distinctive flavor profile. I wasn’t crazy about the waxy aftertaste, but I was able to overlook that and appreciate the stick’s other fine characteristics. The aroma has some really unusual qualities, making this more than just a conventionally mild Connecticut Shade cigar. Folks who gravitate to mild cigars and are looking for something a little different might want to check this one out. Retail prices hover around the 5 USD mark. Grab yourself a 5-pack at, or try your luck on the auction sites.


Final Score: 85